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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Murder for Hire?; Jackson's Drug Trail; Signs of Economic Recovery; Pres. Obama & the Economy; Scoring Pain Killers; Pythons on the Loose in Florida

Aired July 31, 2009 - 2300   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news out of Florida. Tonight the possibility of a shocking new motive revealed in a double murder that stunned the country.

Melanie and Byrd Billings, parents of 13 adopted kids, were shot to death in their home near Pensacola earlier this month, killed by intruders dressed like ninjas. Authorities said they were the victims of robbery.

But now there is more tonight, our source says the state's attorney's office believes there was more than one motive, beyond robbery. Telling CNN the Billings were the targets of a contract hit, that the crime was part of a murder for hire plot.

Now tonight, Sheriff David Morgan who is leading the criminal investigation is responding to that report. David Mattingly joins us with the breaking news -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, for the first time Sheriff David Morgan is confirming publicly that a murder for hire scheme is a possibility they are looking at in the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings.

In fact, they have been looking at this possibility since the beginning following up on what he called uncorroborated information. Now, all these weeks later they are still working on it and not ready yet to rule out the idea that the Billings murder was a hired hit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF DAVID MORGAN, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA: Let me state emphatically that at the onset of the Billings investigation, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office was in receipt of uncorroborated information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that this was an avenue of an investigation that we should in fact, pursue.

I want to ensure the media and the citizens of Escambia County that we have and will continue to do that very thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Our source with knowledge of the investigation goes further than that saying that the state's attorney's office believes that murder for hire was the second motive in this case.

But a statement from the state's attorney office tonight, does not confirm this. It reads -- "It is the position of the office of the state attorney that the prime motive in this case was robbery, however, we will consider all possibilities and review any evidence concerning the issue of motive" -- Anderson.

COOPER: So David, did the sheriff say anything about motive or about suspects?

MATTINGLY: He will not say anything about motive or suspects regarding the idea that this was a murder-for-hire case. He does say however, that of the eight people who have already been arrested -- some of them charged with murder in this case, that as the investigation goes forward we could see additional charges come up against them.

So clearly this case is not over yet. They are still looking at adding more possible charges to the people they already have in custody.

COOPER: Eight people arrested in the investigation. Did Morgan, the sheriff, say anything more about addition arrest in the case; are they still looking for others?

MATTINGLY: They are looking for others. He's been talking about this for a couple of weeks now saying, there's two, possibly more, people that they are possibly ready to arrest any time.

We were expecting to see that sometime this week. Now, we're told that may be next week. But two, possibly more, so it's showing that this case continues to get broader as they continue to look into all these different types of allegations.

COOPER: All right, let's "Dig Deeper" now with Stacey Honowitz, she's a veteran prosecutor with the Florida state's attorney's office. She joins us now from Miami.

So we just heard the sheriff talk about CNN's reporting that a contracted hit may have been one of the motives. What do you make of that?

STACEY HONOWITZ, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: Well Anderson, I think most people when they heard about this first when the arrest came out, I think most people probably said the way that this was carried out just seemed to be a little bit more than a robbery. It was planned. The ninja style outfits, it was precise. They practiced a month before.

So I think, generally people were saying it just doesn't sound like a robbery. So the fact that now they're investigating this murder-for- hire I don't think it's so unusual. And I think that they're going to keep it close to the vest because they are still investigating.

COOPER: And keep it close to the vest as they should. But the -- I mean, the idea of a revenge killing in some way, what would be a possible motive for revenge killing in a case like this? HONOWITZ: Well, we're not going to know anything until basically people start flipping. And I think the woman that was arrested she was the last one that was arrested for accessory after the fact. And I think the bottom line is she's going to be the flip witness.

She's going to be the one that's going to start talking in order to get a good deal. And that's why now I think you're starting to hear this aspect of murder for hire, because maybe some of them are starting to talk. And that's why additional charges might come down and they might be looking for additional suspects.

COOPER: What's interesting...

HONOWITZ: And we're going to have to wait and see. As this progresses, as people start talking as more evidence comes forward we're going to hear more about it.

COOPER: What is interesting though and what may complicate all of this is that the same source also told CNN that the state attorney's office is working under the belief that most of the suspects in the case thought they were actually there for a robbery and there was really only -- that only some were plotting the hit.

HONOWITZ: Yes, I mean, the source and what I've read is -- is the bottom line is -- people that were up from this gentleman Gonzalez, who they say is the shooter, knew what was going on and the people lower were just kind of lassoed into this robbery.

And you know what? You know as a prosecutor I can tell you theories do change as evidence becomes more prevalent. As people start talking especially in the case when you have more than one person arrests and more than one suspect, in this case eight people, people start talking.

So different theories, different part -- portions of the investigation start coming forward as the case goes forward and that's what you're going to hear in this case. The theory might change. And you know that you don't need a motive to prosecute any of these cases but people want to know why.

And that's why the fascination with this case. Why would somebody do something to these people who seemed to be so genuine and caring and took in all these special needs kids?

COOPER: And do we know what's happened to the kids?

HONOWITZ: It is my belief that one of the -- the eldest daughter agreed to take the children. That's the best place for them. She had a relationship with them. They were her brothers and sisters. And I believe that's where they are now.

COOPER: All right, Stacey Honowitz, we appreciate your time tonight, thank you.

HONOWITZ: Thank you. COOPER: Before we move on I just want to remind you. You can join the live chat which is happening right now at AC360.com. You can share your thoughts with Erica and I and other viewers who are watching right now. I'm about to log on myself.

And just ahead tonight, new information in the Michael Jackson investigation: new word on Jackson's possible efforts to get that drug Propofol. Plus, another delay involved in the coroner's report.

And new economic numbers have some wondering if the recession is over. We'll check the facts for you.

Also tonight, Florida's python problem, tens of thousands of them are on the loose. It's hard to believe. We're going to take you on the hunt to round them up before they do even more damage.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight a disturbing picture is coming into focus in the Michael Jackson investigation. Randy Kaye has been following the clues she found in search warrants served this week at a Las Vegas home and office of Dr. Conrad Murray.

Murray as you all know by now is Jackson's personal physician for awhile. Randy first reported on the search warrants last night on the program. She joins me now from Los Angeles.

You've had some time to dig through the warrants. One doctor mentioned caught your eye?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Anderson, we've learned that Michael Jackson had asked one of his former doctors for Propofol -- the drug authorities believed killed him -- just two months before he died. In all seven doctors are mentioned in the search warrant filed after Dr. Conrad Murray's home and office were searched in Vegas.

He's been Jackson's personal physician since May of this year and had been hired to go on the final tour with him. Well, in the search, investigators were looking for letters, notes, and any correspondence between Dr. Murray, Michael Jackson and other doctors.

Now here's the key nugget, investigators mentioned in the warrant a West Hollywood doctor named Allen Metzger. He was Jackson's internist until 2003. Well tonight, his lawyers -- Dr. Metzger's handed over his files to investigators but they have not questioned him and they have not asked to.

But the big news is this; his lawyer told us back in April of this year Dr. Metzger went to visit Michael Jackson at his house after Jackson asked him to come and told him quote, "Michael Jackson asked him about the IV sleep medication Propofol." Well, lawyers said Dr. Metzger told Jackson it was quote, "dangerous and potentially life threatening and could not be used outside of a hospital." We know authorities believe Propofol is what killed Jackson. And a source has told CNN that Jackson's personal physician Dr. Murray gave him Propofol with 24 hours of his death.

But here we see a pattern Anderson, just about two months before his death; this Dr. Metzger says Jackson asked him for Propofol too. Also, another interesting tidbit Dr. Metzger's lawyer said his client prescribed drugs for Michael Jackson under the name Omar Arnold and Michael Jackson, under both of those names together.

What is very interesting here, since Omar Arnold is what we told you last night, that's one of the 19 aliases mentioned in the search warrant. His lawyer told us that Dr. Metzger did that because he thought it was quote, "his duty to protect the privacy of his client."

COOPER: There are other doctors too mentioned. What's their connection to Michael Jackson at this point, do we know?

KAYE: The other doctors -- those include Dr. Arnold Klein, Jackson's long time dermatologist whose records have been subpoenaed in this case. Asked about his name in the warrant, Dr. Klein's lawyer would only say his client is cooperating with investigators.

Also mentioned is Las Vegas dentist Mark Tadrissi and Beverly Hills anesthesiologist Randy Rosen. Now we know from a source last week his client got a visit by the coroner's chief investigator and the records were taken. Also the doctor who gave Jackson that five hour physical to make sure he was healthy enough to go on his final tour. He is also mentioned. That's Dr. David Slavic (ph) out of New York.

We tried reaching out all three of them for comment. Our calls were not returned. There's also in this a Dr. Adams listed, no first name given. So we couldn't find him anywhere, it was just the last name. And the nurse who treated Jackson for just a few months, Cherilyn Lee; she is mentioned in there as well.

She told 360 weeks ago that Jackson begged her for Propofol that's the sedative just reserved for hospital use so he could sleep. Her spokesperson told us today, they had no idea her name was even in the search warrant but added she's cooperating with investigators.

COOPER: And the other big news Randi, you got word today from your sources that the autopsy was delayed yet again. This time indefinitely, what is going on?

KAYE: That's what we're trying to figure out, I spoke to the source who knows all about the autopsy who told me the coroner's office met yesterday with the Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney's office and made what he called a joint decision to delay the release of the autopsy and the toxicology report indefinitely.

All parties agreed to that I'm told, because they need more time to gather information, go through medical records. They are working on what my source called follow ups. I asked if it's still possible the results may be released next week which as you know is what we were told last and the response was quote, "I have no idea." COOPER: And do we know what the delay means for Dr. Conrad -- I mean for Dr. Murray? I mean, he clearly at this point it seems to be the central focus of this investigation or at least the most prominent name being bandied about.

KAYE: Right. I spoke with his office today and his spokeswoman wasn't sure what to make of this delay exactly. I asked her if she thought that the delay was good or bad and what it meant. And we're told simply quote, "Dr. Murray is awaiting the results of the investigation and like everyone else wants to know how Michael Jackson died."

She would not comment on the fact that investigators were searching his Vegas properties, looking for evidence of the sale or the shipment of this drug Propofol which we know now has likely contributed to Jackson's death. She said a third interview with Dr. Murray still has not been scheduled with investigators even though we know that they had initially requested that over a week ago.

COOPER: All right, Randi Kaye out in front of the stories again. Thanks, Randi.

Let's "Dig Deeper" now with Jami Floyd, an attorney and anchor of "In Session."

You know it's interesting -- this Dr. Metzger says that two months prior to Michael Jackson's death he asked him for Propofol.

JAMI FLOYD, ANCHOR, "IN SESSION": Right.

COOPER: We know Cherilyn Lee, the nurse who came forward weeks ago says, it was three months -- I think it was three months before the death that he had asked her...

FLOYD: Right.

COOPER: ...about this drug. So clearly he seemed to have been on a search for this drug.

FLOYD: He is looking for it. And he ultimately finds it or at least all indicators are that he ultimately finds it.

Now, that doesn't mean that it's the cause of death and that doesn't mean that even if it is the cause of death that he gets it from Dr. Murray. So the link has to be made directly to a particular individual and then we have to know that individual administered it before charges can be filed.

But it's clear that he is looking for it. And it's heartbreaking that he needs this to sleep.

COOPER: Yes.

FLOYD: I mean this is a hospital setting or at least a clinical setting drug. COOPER: And it doesn't even put you to sleep. It puts you under. It doesn't allow your body to recover the way sleep allows your body to recover.

FLOYD: That's exactly right. And here's what's fascinating I'm not a doctor but my understanding in following the coverage and reading off on this is that it may not show up...

COOPER: Right.

FLOYD: ...in the toxicology report.

COOPER: It leaves the blood pretty quickly.

FLOYD: And so it may be difficult to determine whether it contributed to cause of death. And then it becomes hard to know what the manner of death was. So it may be part of the reason why this is all delayed the way it has been.

COOPER: It was interesting because I must say I was sort of skeptical of that nurse Cherilyn Lee when she first came forward, she was on our air the first night.

FLOYD: Right.

COOPER: And yet, she was the first one to really introduce Diprivan...

FLOYD: Right.

COOPER: ...and Propofol into the conversation. And lo and behold it's now popping up all the time.

FLOYD: Right, and now what she -- I, too, thought she was kind of sketchy. And now what she has said initially starts to dovetail with what's been coming out in the weeks that have past and seems to be corroborated by all the independent facts.

So she may become a key player. What's amazing to me are the number of health care providers...

COOPER: Right.

FLOYD: That seemed to be attached to Michael Jackson. I mean, it's incredible to me that the number of physicians he's either consulting with or actively seeing. He's a relatively young man and presumably...

COOPER: Right.

FLYOD: I mean, we know he had his problems and his addictions but presumably relatively healthy, rehearsing until midnight every night and yet he needs this heavy duty narcotic to sleep. It's incredible. And again, very, very sad and ultimately finds it somehow if the investigators are on the right trail.

COOPER: The autopsy, the fact that...

FLOYD: Yes.

COOPER: ...the results of that are being delayed indefinitely. What do you make of that?

FLOYD: Well.

COOPER: Have you heard of something like that?

FLOYD: There is the possibility that it's going to be inconclusive. I mean, it's deeply disturbing because everybody wants an answer. But -- and we like answers in this country but we don't like inconclusive results. But there's a possibility we may never know what killed Michael Jackson.

Everybody keeps saying we're going to get that result. We're going to know the cause of death -- we may not. But I think it's more likely than not that there are a number of contributing factors and they just want to get it right before they come to that podium.

COOPER: The family conducted their own autopsy. So they must have the results of that.

FLOYD: Well, and sometimes what happens and I have seen this in big cases with notorious and well-known deceased and then in lesser known cases, you can have inconsistent results when the family has its own autopsy conducted and then you have the public medical examiner.

So that may be part of what the hold up is here. So we have to just wait and see.

COOPER: It's not uncommon for well-known people to have aliases that are used in order for them...

FLOYD: That's right.

COOPER: ...to get prescription drugs...

FLOYD: That's right.

COOPER: ...because some medical personnel...

FLOYD: Absolutely.

COOPER: ...in the pharmacy could see -- well, this person is getting prescribed...

FLOYD: Absolutely.

COOPER: ...something and sell that information to a tabloid.

FLOYD: There is nothing to prevent the pharmacy or somebody who works at a pharmacy from releasing your private information about what you are getting if you are a celebrity or even if you're not a celebrity. You can go after them after the fact, violation of privacy but by that time the information is out.

COOPER: And it is in the computer system of a pharmacy like...

FLOYD: Absolutely.

COOPER: ...one of those big chain pharmacies of probably a large number of people...

FLOYD: So if I'm your doctor and we heard Metzger say this, in the interest of your privacy, if you have a legitimate medical need I might want to use a different name.

Here's the problem, what if you don't have a legitimate medical need? What if you have an addiction? What if I'm over prescribing and in many of this cases and this is what I think we saw in the Anna Nicole Smith case, although that's yet to be proved in court. But we start seeing three, four, five, maybe 15, 12, 20 aliases to get medications that aren't medically necessary for medically legitimate purposes.

And that's the fine line between the privacy protection and what really can be an illegal use of aliases to get your hands on prescriptions.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, it certainly it seems clear that Michael Jackson whether it was a fact that he was traveling in so many different places or not did not have sort of a centralized medical authority who was overseeing all his care.

FLOYD: Right.

COOPER: He was basically going from here to there, from doctor to doctor and perhaps it was doctor shopping.

FLOYD: Well and look, when you're Michael Jackson or Heath Ledger or Anna Nicole Smith or any other celebrity and you want to get your hands on these drugs, you're going to get them.

And even if a doctor like Metzger will stand up and tell you no, or a nurse like Lee will stand up and tell you no. Eventually you're going to find a doctor who will tell you yes. And you find someone who is financially compromised -- and I'm not saying that Murray was this person because nothing has been proved and I think he's being scapegoated (ph) a little bit before all the information is out -- but you're going to find that person eventually. Because people like Michael Jackson they have a certain amount of power in our culture as celebrities. And ultimately they do that forum shopping as we call it...

COOPER: Yes.

FLOYD: ...and they get their hands on those -- those prescription drugs and they can be abused and they are being abused, too much.

COOPER: Jami Floyd, I appreciate it, thanks very much for being with us. Tonight, still ahead, as investigators try to figure out who is prescribing what to Michael Jackson. 360's Joe Johns is in Florida where police are scrambling a crack down on the so-called pill mills, the clinics that made Florida a magnet for drug addicts looking to score prescription medications.

Also ahead tonight, is the recession actually over? New economic report that's getting a lot of attention.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Coming up, the investigation into Michael Jackson's death, shedding new light on a decades old problem, prescription drug abuse. A growing network of so-called pill mills has made scoring prescription drugs easier than ever. We'll tell you where and Joe Johns tonight is "Keeping them Honest."

But first Erica Hill has the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, three Americans are reportedly in Iranian custody tonight after straying across the border from Iraq. A senior Kurdish official tells CNN the three traveled through a tourist area near the Iranian border to go backpacking. The group contacted a fourth traveler who have stayed behind. They told that person they were lost and surrounded by military personnel speaking Farsi. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad has not yet confirmed their report.

There is more backlash over those fat cat Wall Street bonuses; the House voting today to limit executive pay for firms with more than $1 billion in assets. The move follows report that the nation's largest bank awarded nearly $4,800 million plus bonuses in 2008.

Senator Chris Dodd has an early form of prostate cancer. Appearing at a news conference today, the senator insisted he feels fine. Adding that he'll undergo surgery after the senate adjourns next week.

The seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle "Endeavour" returning to earth today after 16 days in space. While in orbit they met with the six crew members on the International Space Station. Together that group of 13 set a record for the most people ever assembled in space. See, makes you want to go now? Doesn't it Anderson?

COOPER: Absolutely.

HILL: I knew it.

COOPER: Coming up next, is it finally over? New signs the economy may be on the mend. We'll show you what the new numbers may mean for your wallet and for Washington. David Gergen and Ali Velshi join us for that.

Then pythons on the loose; believe it or not it is a growing threat in parts of Florida. John Zarrella takes us along on the snake hunt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wow look at this.

JOSEPH WASILEWSKI, SNAKE HUNTER: And that isn't a big one.

ZARRELLA: This is a good ten feet.

WASILEWSKI: No.

ZARRELLA: Oh, yes.

WASILEWSKI: At least 12.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, there are some new signs the recession may soon be over. A report out today shows the pace of economic decline has slowed dramatically. The GDP or Gross Domestic Product shrunk just one percent in the second quarter versus a whopping 6.4 percent from January to March. President Obama commented on the good news this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning the GDP revealed that the recession we faced when I took office was even deeper than anyone thought at the time. It told us how close we were to the edge. But the GDP also revealed that in the last few months the economy has done measurably better than we have thought, better than expected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Cautious but optimistic nevertheless. While the free fall appears to be over, unemployment continues to rise and consumers well, they are simply not spending. The pain may be easing but really are we on the road to an actual recovery? Will it feel like a recovery?

Ali Velshi joins us with details in "Your Money, Your Future." So the GDP has done better than they thought? Does this mean it's behind us?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: No. Look, it's an interesting measure. It is old, as you mentioned it's from the second quarter of this year, March until the end of June.

But let me give you a pattern -- let me show you the last two years of GDP which is the broadest measure of all economic activity in this country. I'm going to show you right now.

First of all, before I do that, this is what the DOW has done, another indicator of what's going on. Let's go back to Election Day, November of '08. Look at where we were. We are just above 9,000. Look where we've gone back to March '09, as you remember Anderson. We were talking about that being the bottom of the market. And now, look at what's happened. We have traced this market back up and we are today where we were back on Election Day.

So that's one of the indications that this market is doing a lot better.

GDP is another of these indications. We're still shrinking this economy Anderson, but we're shrinking it a lot less than we were before.

COOPER: Let's talk about this cash for clunkers program; $2 billion -- another $2 billion was approved today to keep this thing going. It's been a kind of surprising hit, right?

VELSHI: Yes. I've got to tell you, I have some penance to do. I was one of the doubters. This didn't seem like it made a whole lot of sense. This was a program that was putting $1 billion aside to give to people, you had until November to do this, to trade in your old clunker to buy a new car.

They ran out of money in the first week. Today before Congress left they authorized another $2 billion to add to first $1 billion so that people can continue to do this. 40,000 people have taken advantage of it already. Dealers say another 200,000 people are ready to do this, Anderson.

This low-hanging fruit of a program that none of us thought was going to work might end up being one of the most successful enterprises in an effort to stimulate the economy. Ford is saying it's expected to do one of its best months in a very long time because of this.

COOPER: And how does it basically work?

VELSI: Basically if you have a car that's old, that doesn't get very good gas mileage. Instead of trading it in or selling it you go buy a new car that is fuel efficient. You get a voucher from the dealer. If you go and scrap that car you get $3,500 or $4,500 from the government.

So for frugal people who have these old cars who are not fuel efficient but didn't buy a new car, this is tempting them to go out and buy a brand new fuel-efficient car. Basically, money for just trading in your clunker and getting a new fuel efficient car; it's working very well.

COOPER: And that's some good news there. Ali Velshi, thank you very much.

Let's move on to the "Raw Politics" of all of this. Senior political analyst David Gergen joins us now from Boston.

David, so signs the economy might be doing a little bit better. How much does the news today help the President? Because he was sort of, very cautious in his statement today, obviously. DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he wanted to claim credit. I think most economists Anderson, would tell you that it was really the private sector, exports were up more than expected. Business investment was up more. They didn't cut inventories as much.

But they will also say that the government helped. Probably most of the credit from economists would go to the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke and they have thrown everything they could at this economy and it's making a difference.

Some of the credit also belongs to President Obama and the stimulus program. Not just the stimulus program but foreclosure program, efforts to get credit moving.

But you know, in politics all these things matter less. And when you are the incumbent and things start looking better you claim credit and you usually get it.

COOPER: How -- is it really fair though, I mean, only some $60 billion of the $787 billion of the stimulus program has actually been spent. It is hard to say it is the stimulus plan because they only spent $60 billion of it?

GERGEN: That is why I say, I think, economists would tell you, you're absolutely right, Anderson, it is only -- it's a modest part of this turn around.

There is probably the psychological factor that the Obama folks would claim as well; having a new President, fresh, promising President. I do think they deserve a lot of credit in the Obama administration for making sure we didn't go over the cliff.

But you know, Anderson, there's a -- once you start going out as President as he did today and claiming a lot of the credit for this starting to make this turn, you also make it your economy. It becomes the Obama economy.

So if economists are right that he faces a real danger that this growth pattern or this turn around is going to level off after a while and we are going to have a long, painful recovery without a lot of new jobs. That is going to be the Obama economy and that is not good news for the President.

COOPER: And where does health care now stand? We learned late today that another house committee has approved a plan that's going to pave the way for health care reform.

Obviously, the Senate still has -- has their issues with it. How do you see this playing out?

GERGEN: This has been a good day for the President. Having the House go out now where there were three committees considering health care; all three have voted health care out and recommended it to the full House. That's means we are very likely going to get the full House to vote in the fall and very likely to pass. The Senate remains a very big problem for the President. Indeed, fractious Democrats remain a problem for the President. But if you are President Obama tonight, you could at least say this: this country under a variety of Presidents went back to the 1940s have been trying to have national health care passed. No President has gotten it to a vote on the House or the Senate. President Obama is about to get there.

His chances of getting a full health care package done is going to be a big drama. It is still an uphill fight for him in the Congress. But tonight he can take comfort and I think find encouragement in the fact that all three House committees that have been considering have now passed that bill, recommended to the full House passage of a bill. They still have to settle a lot of differences in the fall.

COOPER: All right. David Gergen, appreciate it. Have a good weekend David.

Join the live chat happening right now at AC360.com. Let us know what you think about all this. Do you feel like the recession may be over?

Next on the program: filling prescriptions for suspected drug addicts and breaking the law. Cops go undercover, make a bust; we'll take you along.

And later, massive snakes on the loose; I find this story hard to believe. One man's solution -- we'll introduce you to the one they call the python hunter down in Florida when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Dr. Conrad Murray has emerged as the main focus in the criminal investigation into the death of Michael Jackson, as we reported earlier today. But the case could involve other physicians who treated the singer.

Now a big question for the police and the DEA surrounds prescriptions for powerful drugs and pain killers. Did any of Jackson's doctor's sacrifice his health and his life to make money?

If a patient needs a fix, there's probably a place he or she can get it. They're called pill mills -- medical clinics that for a price give addicts their fix. Joe Johns tonight is "Keeping them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Broward County, Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 10-4. Pull over here. Pull over here.

JOHNS: Sheriff's detectives in a minivan listening to radio transmissions waiting for an undercover drug deal to go down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Count the money. Count the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay here. JOHNS: They are about to arrest a local guy named Matthew Sullivan and charge him with selling prescription pain killers to a female undercover officer. We're talking Oxycodone pills -- powerful narcotics.

A street-level drug deal but not like cocaine, heroin or marijuana. The pain pills are prescribed by doctors and sold by more than 100 pain clinics that have cropped up all over south Florida, especially in Broward. Sullivan says he is an addict.

(on camera): What is it like living in that life?

MATTHEW SULLIVAN, PRESCRIPTION DRUG ADDICT: Never ending, like a hamster wheel you know?

JOHNS: how much do you take a day?

SULLIVAN: A lot, like, 20 pills, 30 pills sometimes.

JOHNS (voice-over): Sullivan did not admit breaking the law in our interview. Police say Sullivan also got fresh prescriptions earlier in the day before they arrested him.

SGT. RICHARD PISANTI, BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT: One is from July 30. He got 112 of those. This one July 30th also, he got 150.

JOHNS: People come here from all over the East Coast to score pain killers from legal pain clinics. Cops call them pill mills. The cops say it all began here with this one pain clinic that has now closed down and relocated.

DETECTIVE HENRY LOPEZ, BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT: This is what our sergeant called ground zero here. This is where we started getting the crowds of people coming from out of state to obtain the pills illegally here. All it took is for us to drive into work one day and see 80, 90 people just milling around here waiting for the pain clinic to open up.

JOHNS: That was two years ago, now the DEA says more than 6.5 million pills were sold here in the last half of last year. And police say the clinics are making money hand over fist.

(on camera): In the last half of 2008, authorities say 50 of the top doctors dispensing Oxycodone in the nation worked in south Florida and 33 of those doctors worked right here in Broward County.

Why is it such a big problem here? Until recently Florida was one of only a dozen states with no way to monitor sales of the drugs.

The state of the Florida has just passed a new law to track sales of pain killers which should make it harder for people to abuse the system. But it could take years for the effects to be felt.

PISANTI: Right now you can go to ten clinics a day if you want. It's illegal but you can do it unless the police follow you. With the new modern system in effect you can only go to one clinic once a month and that is all the pills you are going to get.

JOHNS: But "Keeping them Honest" because there are several other states with no monitoring system, the clinics could simply move somewhere else which is why some experts have been pushing for a national solution -- a computerized federal prescription drug monitoring system to track drugs nationwide.

John Walters was national drug czar under President George W. Bush.

JOHN WALTERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DRUG CZAR: You can have a check in a database that's confidential whether or not this person was doctor shopping, whether this is the 15th prescription they got today from a doctor and whether a pharmacist has already filled that prescription.

JOHNS: A possible fix for a broken system, no fix at all for the addict.

Joe Johns, CNN, Broward County, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Amazing to think some states still don't have a system that can check on things like that.

Coming up next on 360, meet the python hunter. Searching for these huge snakes in Florida and hoping to stop the reptiles from getting even more out of control. We'll take you on the hunt.

And did you know that going to the dentist can be especially painful for people with a certain color of hair. Can you guess what color of hair that is? We'll tell you coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In Florida tonight where alligators and crocodiles lurk in the waters, a dangerous new predator has emerged and it is growing in number and size. Take a look at this, a Burmese python more than 17 feet long was caught this week on the grounds of a hospital near lake Okeechobee -- 17 feet long and these snakes could travel more than a mile in a day. They also eat just about anything.

Across the state thousands of pythons are on the loose. They were kept as pets and then discarded by their owners. One man though is on a mission to find them and John Zarrella takes us on the trail..

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Wasilewski drives along a stretch of road that bisects Florida's everglades. Night is coming on quickly. He is looking for snakes, one in particular.

JOE WASILEWSKI, PYTHON HUNTER: The next ten miles seem to be the hot spot for Burmese pythons.

ZARRELLA: Wasilewski, a reptile expert is one of a handful of men sanctioned by the state to hunt down and rid the glades of pythons. An extraordinary move in response to what scientists believe is a rapidly growing threat to the delicate ecosystem.

WASILEWSKI: It is a large predator and they are eating basically everything in sight. That's the problem.

ZARRELLA: 20 years ago there were none here, today perhaps 100,000; no one is quite sure. Night is the best time to catch these non- venomous snakes. That is when they are on the move.

WASILEWSKI: He spots something. He jumps from the truck, runs to it.

This is not a python. It is a banded water snake?

ZARRELLA (on camera): Banded water snake.

WASILEWSKI: Yes. Do you want to pick him up?

ZARRELLA: Do I?

WASILEWSKI: He'll bite you.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): An hour driving back and forth across the road, still no pythons, at least not alive. There's a dead one and several more small snakes. A baby alligator, too.

WASILEWSKI: Oh, man. And he got hit by a car.

ZARRELLA: Two hours into our hunt, suddenly Wasilewski is on it. He sees one.

WASILEWSKI: Yes, baby. Hey, look at the size of this one.

ZARRELLA: Skillfully he grabs it behind the head. It instantly coils around his arm. Wasilewski will lock the snake in a crate and take it to the national park biologist to be studied and destroyed. But first, we've got to untangle it from his arm.

(on camera) Wow, look at this.

WASILEWSKI: And this isn't a big one.

ZARRELLA: That is a good ten feet.

WASILEWSKI: Nah.

ZARRELLA: Oh, yes. At least 12.

(voice-over): Wasilewski doesn't get paid. It's voluntary. While he knows they've got to be eliminated, he's got a soft spot for the reptiles.

WASILEWSKI: And guess what? It's not this snake's fault. He didn't mean to be here.

ZARRELLA: Some are believed to have gotten here when reptile breeding facilities near the Everglades were destroyed during Hurricane Andrew.

WASILEWSKI: Why don't you take this side?

ZARRELLA (on camera): No, you take that side. You take the head end. I've got the back end.

WASILEWSKI: OK.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Others, from pet owners who disposed of them when they got too big. They can grow up to 200 pounds. But this one is no longer a problem.

WASILEWSKI: One down.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Yes.

WASILEWSKI: A hundred thousand more.

ZARRELLA: A hundred thousand to go.

(voice-over): John Zarrella, CNN, the Florida Everglades.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Unbelievable. Here with us live tonight is the python hunter himself, Joe Wasilewski.

Thanks so much for being with us. I hadn't realized -- you know, hundreds -- are there really -- is it known that there really are 100,000 of these snakes out there?

WASILEWSKI: We really can't put a number on it at 100,000 or 150,000 or 50,000. It's so new in the game that we really don't have an idea. We know there's a lot.

COOPER: They're a danger to the ecosystem. Basically, they change the entire ecosystem when a new predator is introduced.

We've seen that around the world. Are they -- are they a threat to humans?

WASILEWSKI: You know, where pythons come from, where they originate, Burmese pythons, there's never been a human killed and eaten by one. And I highly doubt that will happen in Florida, in the Everglades that is.

COOPER: So what is -- how serious a danger are they to the environment, to the ecosystem?

WASILEWSKI: They're a danger to the ecosystem just because they're a top predator, you know. And they -- they will eat a lot of birds. We found a lot of different animals, mammals, birds and alligators in their stomach. But on the other hand, people forget we have a big predator that lives in the Everglades for millions of years, alligators.

COOPER: And how long could they have been being released for? I mean, they can't have 100,000 -- if there are 100,000 of them, is that because they have mated with each other and given birth in the wild? Or have 100,000 actually been released?

WASILEWSKI: No. No. No. Probably what happened was '92 was Hurricane Andrew. About 800 baby pythons were literally blown into the Everglades. And if you look at statistics, you look at five, six years for them to mature and breed, we're at the third generation now. And that's where these numbers are spiking.

COOPER: That's amazing. I hadn't realized it goes all the way back to Hurricane Andrew.

What about that 17-footer caught in Florida roaming around a construction site? I mean, do you normally see them growing to that size?

WASILEWSKI: You know, honestly, I didn't see a picture of the animal, but they said it was 200 pounds. And that probably someone's released pet because a wild Burmese python 17 feet long is probably going to be under 100 pounds. So that was -- that was probably a pet.

COOPER: And the snakes, you send them to where? I mean, they're studied and then ultimately killed?

WASILEWSKI: Yes. They're euthanized, humanely euthanized. And actually, I work with the -- on sending the animals that I capture to Everglades National Park, to the biologists there. And they'll just take biometric data: lengths, measurements, weights, and check their stomach and see what they've been eating. And it's all for science.

COOPER: What if people have a snake that they want to get rid of? Obviously, they should not just release it in the wild. What should they do with it?

WASILEWSKI: No. Please, if you have a pet snake that you don't want anymore, please send it to a zoo, a rehabilitation center; wildlife rehabilitation center, that is.

It's against the law in Florida to release non-indigenous species. But you shouldn't do it anywhere in the states. Take it somewhere and let it be taken care of professionally.

COOPER: What's the most difficult thing about catching a python?

WASILEWSKI: Finding them.

COOPER: Finding them.

WASILEWSKI: I love catching them. Catching them is the easy part. Finding them is the hard part.

COOPER: It doesn't look -- I mean, with a snake that big, though, I mean, it wraps around you pretty quickly. And basically, I mean, that's -- isn't that how a python kills its prey, ultimately, by wrapping around and smothering it?

WASILEWSKI: Yes, they're constrictors. But they know they're not going to eat -- we're not natural prey for them. And they're -- see, they're really cryptic. And one could be right next to you. One could be 20 inches away and you won't see it. That's the problem.

And when the snake coiled around me that was just defensive; you know, I had it, and it doesn't have arms and legs. And that's how it defended itself.

COOPER: You volunteer for this?

WASILEWSKI: Yes. I don't get paid for this.

COOPER: Why do you do this?

WASILEWSKI: I love snakes.

COOPER: You love snakes.

WASILEWSKI: Yes. I love snakes, you know. And there's a lot of people like me out there. And -- and we want to try to help this problem. We want to try to help it out. We'll never get all the pythons out of the Everglades. They're here to stay. Hopefully, we can manage them.

COOPER: Joe Wasilewski -- I appreciate you're out there, doing what you're doing. Thanks so much. Stay safe.

WASILEWSKI: You're welcome.

COOPER: Coming up next on the program, some missing explosives, blocks of TNT, dynamite, and more stolen. Authorities are asking for your help to recover them.

And later, "The Shot:" a lightning strike and one very lucky guy. We'll show you more of his close call coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Coming up, a close call for one man when lightning strikes. It's tonight's "Shot."

But first, Erica Hill joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the last of Britain's troops left Iraq today. At the height of the war, the U.K. had 42,000 troops in Iraq. One hundred seventy-nine Britons lost their lives during the conflict.

Hundreds of explosives belonging to state and federal agents are missing tonight, gone from a storage unit at a port in Washington State. Among the items: 96 pounds of TNT, 17 sticks of dynamite, and 1,500 feet of detonation cord; also, some consumer fireworks. The ATF is investigating.

Honda is expanding a recall due to faulty airbags. Those airbags are suspected of causing at least six injuries and one death. The issue here: the defective airbags can over-pressurize. That allows metal fragments to cut through them and injure or even kill passengers. The affected models include 2001 and 2003 Honda Accords, 2001 Honda Civics, and 2002 and 2003 Acura TL models.

Hair color and your dentist. Connection? Maybe you don't see it immediately but get this: new research published in the "Journal of the American Dental Association" finds redheads are twice as likely to avoid the dentist as people with dark hair. Why? I'm going to tell you. Turns out redheads are more sensitive to pain, and they require more anesthesia.

COOPER: Really?

HILL: Which ups their anxiety levels when it comes to going to the dentist.

COOPER: What about nitrous oxide? Do you get nitrous oxide at the dentist?

HILL: Laughing gas?

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: I think I had -- when I had my wisdom teeth out, I had it.

COOPER: It's -- yes. Incredible.

HILL: It's crazy stuff. But apparently, redheads in some cases require as much as 20 percent more anesthesia.

COOPER: See, they should just get the laughing gas before they get the anesthesia.

HILL: You're saying that would solve everything?

COOPER: I think it would mellow them out a little bit.

HILL: You know, maybe you're in the wrong line of work.

COOPER: That's right. Exactly. Yes. That's really what you need to be taking from me, is medical advice.

Next on the program, our "Beat 360" winners; our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to come up with a better caption to the one we can come up with for a photo that we put on the blog every day.

By the way, I've only tried nitrous oxide in a dental setting.

Tonight's picture, an activist wearing a mock bottom and a hospital gown petitions lawmakers on Capitol Hill for health-care reform. Yikes. I didn't know what a mock bottom was at first but there you go.

HILL: Now you do.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: The picture really spells it out right there.

Staff winner tonight is Joey. His caption: "We need health-care reform. No ifs, ands, or butts."

The viewer winner is Kathy from Ottawa, Canada. Her caption: "Just like the beer summit... bottoms up. Yes, we can."

HILL: Good one, Kathy.

COOPER: Kathy, congratulations. Your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.

So we've seen a lot of storms this summer. But one man got dangerously close and caught it all on tape. It's our "Shot of the Day." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Erica, for tonight's "Shot," wicked weather. Now check out how close one guy got by -- got to getting struck by lightning.

HILL: Is he on that roof there?

COOPER: He's on the video camera, I think, right?

HILL: What is that thing moving on the roof? Watch. Is that a person up there?

COOPER: I guess so, yes.

HILL: Is that the person who almost got hit or the video camera guy?

COOPER: I think it's both. I guess that is -- is that a person? Does anyone in the control room know?

HILL: I'm going to go out on a limb and say if that is a person, I'm really glad you didn't get hit. But what -- what are you doing on a roof? What are you doing on a roof in a lightning storm?

COOPER: I should have probably looked at the video before we aired it. But there's an annoying chasm of silence in the control room. So no one seems to have actually watched it.

HILL: Apparently not. Fascinating piece of video, though.

COOPER: I'm hearing crickets in my IFP (ph). Just...

HILL: You don't think it looks like a person?

COOPER: No, it's not a person. No one -- no one watched this video before we aired it. Apparently, no one knows what we're even looking at.

HILL: If we watch it enough times, maybe we'll figure it out.

COOPER: It's a chair.

HILL: A chair.

COOPER: Wow. OK.

HILL: So if you wanted to sit out and get hit by lightning, you could.

COOPER: Check out how close this chair got to being hit by lightning. That's what I should have read right there. But clearly, the guy with the video camera came pretty close, as well.

HILL: He was super close. Yes.

COOPER: All right. It was -- a little information. Here we go. It was apparently recorded in St. Augustine, Florida, a couple -- just a couple days ago.

HILL: I think that's Augustine.

COOPER: Is it really now?

HILL: Isn't it?

COOPER: This is one of those things I probably should have read, too, before going on the air with it. Don't you think?

Hey, that does it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts now.