Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Dogs Killed In New Orleans; Wildfires Becoming Contained in California; Therapy Found In Helping Hurricane Victims; Mold Cleanup Underway; Racial Comments Made By Former Education Secretary

Aired September 30, 2005 - 20:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins in for Paula Zahn tonight.
As of tonight, thousands of New Orleans residents can come back home. But will they? And should they? Let's get you caught up now on the very latest.

At this hour, the city's unflooded neighborhoods, including the French Quarter and the Garden District, are officially open again. And 170,000 people, about one-third of the city's population, are now welcome to go home.

But from fallen trees to rotten food, there is a lot to clean up. The major of New Orleans is moving forward with plans to rebuild the city. He introduced a new planning commission this afternoon. Mayor Ray Nagin wants Congress to give the city money for stronger levees, a new train system to help with evacuations and an incredible tax break. If he gets his way, anyone who lives and works in New Orleans would pay only half as much federal income tax as the rest of us.


MAYOR RAY NAGIN, (D) NEW ORLEANS: We don't want to be an undue burden on the federal government, but we do think that we contribute to this nation. We contribute mightily to this nation and we deserve to be treated accordingly.


COLLINS: The overall death toll from Hurricane Katrina was raised today to 1,163 929 of those deaths were in Louisiana, 219 in Mississippi. Katrina is the third deadliest hurricane in U.S. history.

And it isn't just homes and shops that need cleaning up. The government today said 190,000 barrels of oil were spilled by Hurricane Katrina. Roughly one-third of it has been recovered. Another third has evaporate or been dispersed and you are seeing some of what's left on the screen.

We begin our hurricane coverage tonight with a story that may upset you. The pictures may be hard to watch, but it's a story that needs to be told about some people forced to leave the disaster zone without their pets. They left their beloved dogs behind with food and water in the hopes that they would be OK. But they weren't. They were killed. And the question tonight, who killed them and why? Ed Lavandera has been looking into the answers.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, there is great concern here in the New Orleans area. The sheriff of St. Bernard Parish says that over the last couple of weeks he has seen a disturbing trend.


LAVANDERA, (voice over): The day after Hurricane Katrina struck, Frank and Vivienne Osavao (ph) sought refuge on the second floor of this St. Bernard Parish elementary school. They brought their six dogs and stayed here four days. Then they say sheriff deputies told them to get out.

FRANK OSAVAO: So we had to turn our back on these dogs and leave them back and that was the hardest thing in the world to ever do because these were my babies.

LAVANDERA: The couple left food and water behind for their dogs, but when they came back four weeks later, this is what they found. Five of their dogs shot and killed. A scene so disturbing, so foul, the Osavao's can hardly control their disgust.

FRANK OSAVAO: This one looks like Gypsy (ph). Oh, I can't look at that right now.

LAVANDERA: The smell in this elementary school is absolutely unbearable. We know that the dogs were alive on the Friday after Hurricane Katrina struck and they were discovered here dead on Wednesday of this week. So there's a four-week window there that we don't know what happened. But the smell here now is absolutely atrocious.

Look at the windows. Flies everywhere. The carpet on the ground soaked in blood as well. This is absolutely unbearable to stand in.

This elementary school is the second site in St. Bernard's Parish where CNN has discovered a group of dogs deliberately slaughtered. Yesterday, 14 dogs were found in a middle school. Some were shot, others were tied up, pools of dried blood and shell casings were found at each site.

VIVIENNE OSAVAO: I pray to God the truth comes out and people know how the people were down here.

LAVANDERA: The Osavao's believe police officers or military personnel are responsible for killing these dogs.

SHERIFF JACK STEPHENS, ST. BERNARD PARISH: This is the worst thing we've ever seen.

LAVANDERA: St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens also fears that someone in uniform is the culprit. He says, even though 0.9 millimeter shell casings and shotgun shells found at the scene are available to any gun owner, it's also the kind of ammunition used by law enforcement.

STEPHENS: I'm certainly not in a position to say that it wasn't one of my officers. I can't say that. I don't know. But I can say this, if it was, I mean, it demonstrates a condition that probably makes them unfit for duty because even under the most extreme circumstances, that's an act that just cannot be tolerated and that person shouldn't be wearing a gun and carrying a badge.

LAVANDERA: The Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Department is now investigating. They say there is evidence at the first scene to suggest owners might have pulled the trigger.

BRIAN CLARK, LOUISIANA FISH AND WILDLIFE: When you see a dog that's blindfolded, you know, tied up, that kind of indicates that it's possible an owner might have done that, not to look them in the face when they have to do something.

LAVANDERA: Where the blindfolds came from is part of the mystery now. Video images CNN captured before investigators arrived on the scene do not show any signs the animals were blindfolded and several dog owners who abandoned the animals left messages on the wall pleading for the dogs' lives.

Frank and Vivienne Osavao aren't walking away from this scene completely broken hearted. They managed to saved one dog, Cheyenne. Now with three little newborn puppies, they'll start a new life away from this haunting site.


LAVANDERA: Heidi, and just late this afternoon, we've heard from other animal rescuers here in the area that a third site in St. Bernard Parish has been found. We haven't been an able to independently verify that yet but we will be doing that in the day ahead.


COLLINS: Oh, Ed, it's such a tragic story. Really upsetting. But there are so many things to take care of there as far as people's lives and so forth. Any indication at this point as to how hard investigators will really be able to look into this?

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, the St. Bernard Parish sheriff is quite frank with us that the reason he is the one that asked for the Fish and Wildlife Department here in the state of Louisiana to come in and investigate this. He says that his sheriffs deputies are completely taxed. They are exhausted. They have been through a brutal month and they are in no condition to investigate anything like this. Of course, in those days and weeks in the days after Hurricane Katrina, the main focus was on getting people out. And what happened after that is something that is bothering him immensely right now.

COLLINS: I'm sure. All right, Ed Lavandera live from New Orleans tonight.

Thanks, Ed.

Now wildfires burning tonight near Los Angeles. Thousands of fire fighters are still battling flames. So far they have the 21,000 acre fire at least 20 percent contained. The wildfire threatened homes in the Chatsworth area northwest of L.A. That's not far from Simi Valley and it's also where Peter Viles is for us tonight.

Peter, how do things look at this time?

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, we got some excellent news from Simi Valley and for all of this fire for that matter. There had been one big flair up today. That was the focus of firefighting today. It's right over my shoulder. You can't see it because they've successfully tapped it down.

I spoke to one engineer who came out of there about a half hour ago. She had a big smile on her face. I said how did you guys do up there? She looked at me and she smiled. She said, I think we slammed the doors on this one.

So very good news here. Fire fighters now believing and saying they think they have the upper hand on this fire.


VILES, (voice over): The Topanga Canyon fire has already torched an area bigger than Manhattan. As it flared this afternoon, 3,000 fire fighters fought back, from the air and on the ground, using bulldozers and even fighting fire with fire. The hot Santa Ana winds that fueled the fire died down and fire officials were optimistic.

CAPT. JULES GRIGGS, VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We are getting a real upper hand on it. You know, the weather was very good for us today. It provided us a good opportunity to be aggressive and to put some lines down and to do initial attack on the fire.

VILES: Remarkably, a fire that has burned 21,000 acres has destroyed only a handful of buildings. Bob and Barbara Dunn are among the many counting their blessings after a rude awakening Thursday morning.

BOB DUNN, OAK PARK RESIDENT: Well, at 3:00 a.m. I thought the sun was coming up because there were shadows in the bedroom back here. And I looked to see and it was a fire. It was just mounting on the rim. That farthest rim where the peak was coming up.

VILES: The fire closed in so quickly the Dunns could not leave.

BARBARA DUNN, OAK PARK RESIDENT: I was kind of panicking because there was 30 foot flames and I could hear it crackling and the black smoke and there was firemen going up our hill here.

VILES: But firemen on the scene were even telling jokes while they protected the house.

BOB DUNN: Firemen's humor started. They said, well, you know, actually, we ought really let it burn all the way down, that way you get rid of all the fuel, you know. And we're saying, oh, please, you know. And they're saying it with a straight face, you know.

VILES: Tonight, the Dunns are cleaning up and have a new respect for fire fighters.

BARBARA DUNN: Boy, I'll tell you, those the firemen, they were so organized and they just knew what they were doing.

VILES: California's governor flew over the Topanga fire and later praised the fire fighters.

GOV ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ) CALIFORNIA: Thank you very much to the brave fire fighters. They're doing such a heroic job working day and night to put this fire out that they have it almost under control. And it's incredible the kind of work they do, so give them a big hand for the great work that they're doing.


VILES: Well a lot of people, Heidi, in this Topanga Canyon area I'm sure would share in that applause. The fire again here under control. The percentage number was just 20 percent contained. We expect that number to rise sharply tonight when they make another announcement.

I want to mention though, and I think you can see it on your screens now, there is another fire in the Los Angeles area. It's known as the Burbank fire. It's known as the Burbank fire. It is in Burbank and it has been burning pretty dramatically today. It is a much smaller fire than this Topanga fire and has not raised the level of concern among fire officials.

Last we heard it was about 80 acres and not threatening any residential areas. It was burning up and away from some residential areas. But still some spectacular pictures came out of Burbank today. That's certainly a fire to watch. But a very, very small fire compared to this larger fire at Topanga Canyon.

And this fire, very good news today, as one engineer who had been in there fighting the fire told me, they think they slammed the door on it today.


COLLINS: Boy, I sure hope so. And hopefully mother nature will certainly cooperate over the weekend as well.

Peter Viles, thank you.

We've come across a story of a remarkable brave grandmother. Hurricane Katrina made her homeless, now she's helping the victims of Hurricane Rita.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bit of therapy for me is to help them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You consider this therapy for you?



COLLINS: Meet a woman who has incredible courage, even more incredible generosity, and a sense of humor too. Stick around for that next.


COLLINS: The storm stories just keep coming to the surface a month after Katrina and a week after Rita. Tonight, we have a remarkable one of survival, heroism and devotion. Just after Rita hit, our Alex Quade made her way to some of the small towns on Louisiana's battered coast and met people who survived the storm and were stranded on the bayou. And she also met an angel of mercy who came to their rescue.


ALEX QUADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Vermillion Parish, Louisiana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The storm surge is still coming in.

QUADE: Just a few hours after Hurricane Rita stormed through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of water. Bucu (ph) water.

QUADE: The call for help is answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be able to get out or what?

QUADE: Good old boys, local hunters and fishermen bring boats, trucks, coon dogs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't launch the air boats because the winds are blowing too hard. It will flip the boats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's more than him rescuing?

QUADE: Cajun old timers who stayed in the marsh lands need medical assist.

You can't even get down there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can't get to a point where we can launch the boats and run safely right now because the winds are still to high. Once the wind dies down we can get the air boats in.

QUADE: The weather improves. Paramedic Karen Melonthon (ph) climbs in the back of a pick-up to volunteer. KAREN MELONTHON: Can you imagine that we're actually having to drive through to the water to get to the water?

I joined this woman amongst men, mother of six, grandmother of three.

MELONTHON: We're going to hold on to each other.

QUADE: Riding along with two Louisiana Fish and Wildlife air boat men and a national guard who's also a medic. Past houses. Farms. Past sunk air boats that went out too soon. This is State Highway 82. Sixty-nine-year-old Wilson Milu (ph) waits on his porch. He has prostate cancer and high blood pressure but won't leave his cows.

MELONTHON: How you doing? I'm Karen.

WILSON MILU: Glad to meet you, ma'am.

MELONTHON: I'm a paramedic and we're out seeing making sure you just feel OK. This gentleman here . . .

MILU: I just took a bath. I'm clean. I'm shaved.

MELONTHON: You shaved and all, huh? How do you feel, though? Pretty good, huh?

QUADE: Karen checks him over.

MELONTHON: I'm just going to put this on your finger real quick.

MILU: That's nice of you all to come over. There are still people that cares in this world.

MELONTHON: It's a little up there. It's like 160 over 100.

MILU: About 6:00 I take my pill.

MELONTHON: You sure you're going to be OK?

He's nervous about his cows and his land. So I'm sure he's going to be fine once everything starts settling down.

QUADE: We continue down Highway 82 towards Pecan Island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never in my days I would have seen two air boats pull up in my front yard.

QUADE: As Karen listens to Preston Brusar's (ph) health concerns, the checkup turns deadly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a snake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but that's a cotton mouth, son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave it alone. Now that the water's come up, they got to find a high ground.

QUADE: You're probably lucky you had some medics here just in case.


MELONTHON: Thank you all so much.

QUADE: He tells Karen about a local swamp rat skating champion down the road. A diabetic grandma who had open heart surgery. Sixty- nine-year-old champ Ruby Lamare (ph).

RUBY LAMARE: Good to see you all.

MELONTHON: Good to see you.

QUADE: Is happy to see Karen.

LAMARE: The only thing I was scared when I saw the water coming up, I was scared it was going to flood the house. And I wanted to leave. My husband didn't want to leave.

QUADE: Little do they know their paramedic lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. This is Karen's two-story house in Buress (ph), south of New Orleans.

MELONTHON: My house was inundated with water. About 27 foot of water inside my house. The bottom floor actually looks like it had some kind of current running through it.

QUADE: This is the fire station she worked 911 calls during Katrina.

MELONTHON: So a bit of therapy for me is to help them.

QUADE: You consider this therapy for you?

MELONTHON: Yes, I do. Very much so.

QUADE: Is it just to keep you busy so you can keep your mind off?

MELONTHON: And that also. I mean, I just I've been a paramedic for 13 years and work has always been my therapy. And this is proven to be way more therapy than I even thought it would be.


COLLINS: That was Alex Quade reporting. And you can see more of her story on a special "CNN Presents" this weekend called "Monster: Tracking the Storm." It airs Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still to come, a problem thousands of hurricane victims can't avoid. It looks bad, smells worse and you're probably wondering how sick will it make you? And why former Education Secretary Bill Bennett is taking a lot of heat. We'll play for you what he said about abortion, African- Americans and crime.

But right now, it's time to check the hour's top stories. Here's Erica Hill at "Headline News."

Hi Erica.

ERICA HILL, "HEADLINE NEWS": Hey, Heidi. Nice to see you.

We start off in Iraq.

A car bomb exploding in a crowded market there killed at least eight people. Another 49 were hurt in the blast in the southern town of Hilla. The bombing brings the number of people killed in Iraq in just the last two days to 110. The violence comes ahead of a vote on a new constitution. That vote is set for October 15th.

The U.S. Army is closing the books on what may be its worst recruiting shortfall in decades. Official numbers aren't out yet but the Army apparently got 73,000 recruits in the 12 month counting period. That's almost 9 percent short of its goal. One factor here, of course, the war in Iraq, along with a strong economy creating jobs.

And teenage golfing phenom Michelle Wie will turn professional next week, just six days before her 16th birthday. That's the word tonight from "Golf World" magazine. The magazine also saying Wie will sign endorsement deals with companies including Nike and Sony, bringing her a cool $10 million. If she played as a professional this year, by the way, Wie would have made $750,000,000 to put her in the top rank of the ladies PGA. And there's one soon to be 16-year-old, Heidi, who probably doesn't have to worry about where her car's going to come from or how to pay for college.

COLLINS: That's exactly what I was going to say. I think she may have a (INAUDIBLE).

HILL: Yes.

COLLINS: I'm not quite sure.

All right, Erica, thanks so much.

Well, think you've got house work this weekend? How about tackling this? Monster mold courtesy of Hurricane Katrina. What would you do?


COLLINS: Coming home after Katrina won't be easy for anybody. Thousands of people, even if their homes survived the wind and flood, will open the door to something I can't even imagine, a poisonous, moldy mess on their walls, their furniture, everything. Chris Lawrence joins me now.

Chris, boy, this stuff is nothing to mess around with, that's for sure.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about it, Heidi.

You know, we're standing in a part of New Orleans that didn't suffer a lot of flooding during Katrina, but those winds just ripped these buildings apart. The rain came in and the mold has been growing ever since.

Now to young, healthy folks, that's probably more of an annoyance than anything else. But for the elderly, it can be downright dangerous. We spent the day at a nursing home to get a sense of how tough that cleanup's going to be.


LAWRENCE, (voice over): Jim Landis is getting his first look at his mother's apartment.

JIM LANDIS, RESIDENT'S SON: Not bad. I expected a whole lot worse than this.

LAWRENCE: Her room at the nursing home has mold covering the sofa, growing out of the ceiling.

LANDIS: Well, the sofa is gone. But the pictures and, you know, things she's had a long time are the important stuff.

LAWRENCE: That wasn't that bad but some of these units are so much worse. This is the apartment of John Gish (ph). He's 90-years- old. You can still see his walker sitting right here on the floor. Right underneath where that water just completely soaked through the roof, collapsed the seal ceiling and there is mold everywhere in his apartment. Literally it's not a matter of trying to find a place in here where there is mold, but finding a place where there is no mold. From the walls, from the back to the front of this place, it is completely covered.

FRANK RABITO, M.D., INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: The mold could end up causing a significant medical problem for them.

LAWRENCE: Dr. Frank Rabito says even mild forms of mold can cause chronic sinus and respiratory problems.

RABITO: As we get older, our immune systems tend to fall apart. And as a result, becomes susceptible to infections.

MIKE CALHOUN, OWNER, PRATT STANTON MANOR: When I walked in and saw the rain pouring down I said, oh God, this is it.

LAWRENCE: Mike Calhoun owns the nursing home. Says the roof's gone on one side of the building. The apartments will have to be gutted. The cleanup crew Calhoun hired wouldn't even walk through the door without full hazmat suits. Mold is saturating the ceiling, which has to be ripped out and replaced to protect elderly residents who want to move back. CALHOUN: That's why we wouldn't let anybody come back until we're sure it's safe.


LAWRENCE: Yes, Calhoun told me his residents are scattered all over the country with friends and family from New Mexico to New Jersey. Some have already started to call to ask him when they can come home. First he's got to gut and replace half that building, then the city inspectors have to come in and sign off before he gets the authorization to reopen.


COLLINS: Such a long process. All right, Chris Lawrence, thanks for that.

For former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, cleaning up mold might be easier than dealing with the mess he caused with these comments.


WILLIAM BENNETT, FMR EDUCATION SECRETARY: That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.


COLLINS: What's ridiculous and reprehensible? Stay with us for the comments, the context and the outrage.


COLLINS: A fire storm rages tonight over some remarks about blacks, crime and abortion made by a man who offers advice to the nation on morals and values. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett says his comments were simply taken the wrong way, but they touched a nerve already laid bare by Hurricane Katrina. Here's Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): The president thinks it's inappropriate. Howard Dean calls it hateful. Congressman John Conyers (ph) wants an apology. Conservative values guru Bill Bennett says he's been misunderstood.

WILLIAM BENNETT, FMR. EDUCATION SECRETARY: I was dealing with this doubly noxious hypothetical about abortion and race to illustrate a point about just how noxious and horrible it is.

CROWLEY: For sure, doubly, not just hypotheticals don't make good sound bites. It began when a caller to Bennett's radio show suggested that Social Security would be more solvent if there had been not so many abortions over the past 30 years. Bennett responded that was not a good anti-abortion argument because hypotheticals can work both ways.

BENNETT: I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do. But your crime rate would go down. So these far out -- these far-reaching, you know, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

CROWLEY: It became a runaway train, spread across the Internet, picked up in the halls of Congress.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: These are shameful words, Mr. Speaker. I'm appalled to have to say them on the floor of the House of Representatives.

CROWLEY: A noisy, oncoming explosion of un-hypothetical divides.

ROLAND MARTIN, JOURNALIST/RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: For him to say it's a hypothetical situation, to suggest that you could abort every black child, which would include me and my nieces and nephews and mothers and fathers to lower the crime rate, how about a jobs program?

DR. JOHN MCWHORTER, THE MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: In the very strict logical sense, what he's saying is true. He's certainly not advocating that we do about it is to abort all black babies, it's a hypothetical that he was referring to because he was making a logical point about his opposition to abortion.

CROWLEY: Stung by suggestions the Bush administration was slow to help Katrina victims because most were black, Republicans treated this like the plague, declining comment on camera.


COLLINS: Candy Crowley for us tonight.

Coming up next now, a dramatic twist in the case of a shocking crime. There's an obvious suspect and a set of circumstances so bizarre you've never heard anything like it.


COLLINS: Now a horrifying and bizarre true crime story. It's the case of the rape and murder of a teenage girl. There's a suspect, a 33-year-old illegal immigrant, and police say there's DNA evidence against him. Well, a lot has happened since we started following this story and now, a decision that may outrage you because it could mean the suspect will go free.

Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The last minutes of Britney Binger's life were spent on this county road in Virginia on what should have been just an evening walk. The day after New Year's, Britney, 16 years old, and estranged from her parents over personal issues, leaves the trailer park where she lives with a friend, walking to another neighborhood nearby, the area is well-traveled, but in a dark cluster of trees, police say a man grabs her from behind, drives her to the ground, rapes and chokes her to death.

Kristin Thurston was the friend Britney was staying with. She heard about the murder at work the next morning.

KRISTIN THURSTON, VICTIM'S FRIEND: I did 90 all the way home just hoping it wouldn't be her. But as soon as I got up there, they still had her on the ground and I could see just a little bit of the sleeve of the jacket she was wearing.

FOREMAN (on camera): And when you saw the jacket, you knew?

THURSTON: I knew it was her. It was so awful.

FOREMAN (voice-over): With the crime happening only a few miles from historic Williamsburg, an important tourist attraction, police knew they had to move quickly to ease fears. Major Stan Stout, in charge of the investigation, says Britney's vagabond life complicated the case from the beginning.

(on camera): This girl was leading a pretty troubled life.

MAJOR STAN STOUT, JAMES CITY COUNTY POLICE: Yes, she was. Just bouncing from one home to another, anybody that would take her in. One of the first things we did was look on the sex offender registry and realize that within a five-mile radius we had a number of sex offenders.

WILLIAM GIBBS, SENIOR INVESTIGATOR: We were chasing down so many rumors. We were just -- I mean, all of us just basically saturating this area.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And senior investigator William Gibbs admits the evidence at the beginning was thin. There was some skin under Britney's left finger nails. They found a new bottle of Minute Maid Strawberry Passion Fruit Drink near the body. Bloodhounds led them along Britney's path to a convenience store and to a bar, where the dogs took special interest in one booth.

STOUT: It's a local crowd, the same folks in there most all the time. Talked to her bartender who was sitting there.

GIBBS: The bartender says, well, as a matter of fact, that's where the Mexican was sitting.

FOREMAN: So officers say they tracked down that man who turned out to be an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, living in this shed behind his brother's trailer. Police say they snapped this picture and added it to the stack of potential suspects now growing at an alarming rate.

GIBBS: This case seemed the more people we talked to, instead of narrowing it down, it -- actually, the circle expanded.

FOREMAN: One month in, police were floundering. The neighborhood increasingly tense.

(on camera): What was the reaction in this neighborhood?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Astounding. It was just -- we couldn't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That whole month period, that is really when everybody was kind of scared to go outside, nobody really trusted anybody.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Then, a break. Police had wanted to look at the pictures from the digital security cameras at the convenient store for weeks, but say they had trouble opening the computer files. An officer finally cracked the system and this is what they saw right at the cooler the dogs had tracked to. Police say it is Oswaldo Martinez, the man from El Salvador, with something in his hand.

STOUT: Tightened up the picture, tightened it up, until we see Minute Made Strawberry Passion Fruit Drink, 20 ounces.

FOREMAN: Police say then the evidence all came together. Remember the skin under Britney's left finger nails?

(on camera): What would your reaction be if you're being attacked from behind.

STOUT: Well, you're fighting back like this.

FOREMAN (voice-over): When investigators dug up that first photo of Martinez, they say they noticed something they had missed before, a clear scratch on the left side of his jaw. Police wanted only one more thing. So two undercover officers went to the bar and waited until they say Martinez showed up, had a beer, and left. Then they pounced on the empty bottle.

STOUT: DNA from the beer bottle -- the known beer bottle we saw him drinking from, matched the DNA on the Minute Maid fruit dink bottle which matched the DNA on her left finger nails, and matched the DNA that was inside her body cavities.

FOREMAN: Martinez was charged with capital murder.

THURSTON: We were relieved that they had finally got him. It was just blown out the water that he actually lived in this trailer park and some of the kids around here knew him.

FOREMAN (on camera): But the relieved community did not know that there was something special about this suspect, something that even now may keep him from ever being tried for the crimes that happened right here. He neither reads nor writes English nor Spanish, and he's a deaf mute.

(voice-over): In legal terms, it is called linguistic incompetence. In practical terms it means Martinez may be unable to fully understand what is happening, explain his actions or offer any evidence to contradict the police. So as hard as it is to believe, his disability might let him walk away from all charges a free man.

Paul Rothstein is a legal expert at Georgetown University.

PROF. PAUL ROTHSTEIN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It's all well and good to say, well, the case is an open and shut case. What do we need him for? But you could say that in many cases. There is no substitute for the person, him- or herself, being able to understand and communicate with their counsel.

FOREMAN: Clearly as the case came to court this week, that is what the judge believed. He ruled that Martinez is, indeed, incompetent to stand trial, and ordered him sent to a state hospital for language training. Martinez's family has refused to talk about the case. Police say they've been cooperative, but much is at stake.

His lawyer also refused our repeated requests for an interview, but told a local newspaper: "We're dealing with a guy who doesn't have any base of linguistics, he doesn't have a grammar system, it's like teaching a baby."

THURSTON: And who's to say he wants to learn how to do it. Because he knows -- I know he has got to know up in his head that once he learns, he is going to die. And that's all there is too it.

FOREMAN: So can he, will he learn? Police say in a five-hour interrogation using a Spanish interpreter, hand signals and anatomically correct dolls, Martinez confessed.

STOUT: Very difficult, very rough.

FOREMAN (on camera): You don't have any doubt this is the guy and that he admitted it?

STOUT: No doubt, correct.

FOREMAN (voice-over): But Martinez's lawyer told the local paper the officers don't know what he was trying to say. They just think they do. The Supreme Court has already ruled if you cannot put someone on trial or prove he has a dangerous mental condition, you must set that person free.

ROTHSTEIN: There is some chance this fellow may walk the streets without ever having any kind of commitment.

STOUT: It worries me, yes, that he could be turned loose.

FOREMAN: State law requires that every six months the court must see if Martinez is ready for trial, or making any progress toward that goal. And remember, if the answer is ever no on both points, Martinez could wind up free, never to face this murder charge again. But where Britney Binger lived and died, the verdict is already in, and unspeakable.

THURSTON: There will never be justice for her, and that's horrible, after the life she had, not even to be dead and in peace.


FOREMAN: Every person I talked to about this case said they've never seen anything like it, but next spring they will see Mr. Martinez in court again to see if he's made any progress.

COLLINS: Well, Tom, is there any chance -- I mean, will anyone be watching him? And they see him once every six months, but any sort of, I don't want to say probation because obviously he was found incompetent and therefore not guilty or innocent of a crime, but does anybody check in within that six-month period?

FOREMAN: Well, I mean, he's going to be held in the hospital. He can't go anywhere. He's still under a capital murder charge and obviously the people working with him will be with him all the time.

But here's the catch to this, Heidi, all of these laws about holding people in the hospitals are based upon mental incompetence, so people who are dangerously insane. Nobody has said that about him. What they're saying is he cannot communicate. At some point, two years, three years, four years down the line, whatever it is, a defense lawyer is going to say, you cannot hold my client forever if he cannot learn because you've never proven that he is dangerous. Because the only way you can prove it is by putting him on trial and you can't put him on trial if he can't participate.

COLLINS: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks for that.

In a few minutes now we're going to take you back to New Orleans. But this time, instead of looking for signs of troubles, one of the city's more colorful residents goes looking for signs of a comeback.


COLLINS: All right. The French Quarter there, that's a nice live shot to see. Still ahead, though, what is there to do in New Orleans, besides clean up? Well, in a few minutes, one of the city's more high profile residents will show us around a little bit. Maybe we'll get insight there.

Right now though, it's time for Erica Hill at HEADLINE NEWS to update the hour's top stories -- Erica.


The White House says to expect an announcement at any time on President Bush's next choice for the Supreme Court. The president headed off for Camp David after consulting with Senate leaders on the nomination. The new justice will replace Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring. Chief Justice John Roberts started work today after being confirmed and sworn in yesterday.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller breaks her silence in the CIA leak investigation after 85 days in jail. Miller said she did her duty as a journalist by not naming a source and her duty as a citizen by finally testifying to the grand jury for today for three hours. Miller was freed from jail after the source, Vice President Cheney aide Lewis Libby freed her from a pledge of confidentiality.

Forty-two children hurt when a school bus turned over in New York. Ten adults were also injured. The good news here, nobody was hurt critically. Officials say the bus was overturned when it was hit by a car trying to merge into traffic. Now authorities say all the children did have their seat belts fastened.

And, Heidi, that's the latest from HEADLINE NEWS. We'll hand it back to you in New York. Have a great weekend.

COLLINS: All right, Erica, thanks.

Friday night still means one thing in New Orleans, let the good times roll. And they are having a few at Molly's on the market in the French Quarter. Still ahead, how New Orleans is beginning to come back to life.


COLLINS: If all goes well, the wreckage from Hurricane Katrina will be hauled off by October of next year. That's the current estimate anyway. But in New Orleans, with people coming back neighborhood by neighborhood, there are more and more signs of life. Julia Reed, a contributing editor at Newsweek, who has lived in New Orleans for years, took us on a walking tour to see some of the places and the people she loves.


JULIA REED, CONTIBUTING EDITOR, NEWSWEEK: There's my buddy Bob Reaux's (INAUDIBLE) shop. As you can see here some (INAUDIBLE), he never left the city. So every time I come back to town he asked me to bring him ice and chicken. One day it was ice and garlic powder, today it's ice and chicken.

Hello, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey sweet cheeks.

REED: You're welcome. You've got a lot of wet rugs out there on the sidewalk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got a lot of smelly rugs out there.

REED: I wish I had one, wet or dry, in this fine establishment.

We're on Canal Street which used to be a grand avenue, but not in many, many years. You saw a lot of footage of looters streaming out of these broken windows with stuff and that's why this street is not -- is not looking quite as clean as a lot of the other streets.

There are racks of clothes just trashed everywhere. But nobody wanted the dorky little college cheerleader with his red (ph) tie (ph) and his megaphone and his college football blanket for his lap, his stadium blanket.

There's the Pearl Oyster Bar. It will be a long time before we have any oysters here, I'm afraid.

This is the Napoleon House, which is a great old bar. They're famous for their pins, cups, and their muffuletta sandwiches, which is a great Italian sandwich.

This is my friend Alan (ph) from the Royal Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. Rib Room, world famous Rib Room.

REED: Who runs the world famous Rib Room where I spend a lot of quality time, conveniently located a half a block away from the Napoleon House. When are you all opening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People like you keep us open.

REED: When are you opening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as possible, but the problem is, I guess, you have, that we all have, is we need our busboys, we need our dish washers, we need our waiters.

REED: I will volunteer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need our chefs and the cooks and everybody.

REED: This is Phinas Shelnut (ph) who owns this building and this restaurant. He's been cooking almost every night since the hurricane, hasn't he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About three weeks.

REED: Tonight, spaghetti and meat sauce out here. I like the decoration, the table decorations. Very nice.

Molly's has always been a great bar. But I don't think I've ever seen it quite so successful as I have the last three weeks. It's run like every good Irish bar should be.

And on that note.

REED: There's a continuity here that doesn't exist like anywhere else and I'm glad to see everybody pulling together and coming back.

COLLINS: And joining me now, Newsweek's Julia Reed in front of Molly's. And I know there are a lot of people inside. So we'll talk loud for you.

REED: Thank you.

COLLINS: Do you have any sense when you walk around and talk to these people that you've known for so long, of when things might be getting back to normal? REED: Well, as my friend Phinas Shelnut said yesterday when we were visiting him while he was making his spaghetti, he said, you know, the French Quarter is not normal. I mean, normal in the French Quarter is abnormal. So, you know, I think a lot of people pride themselves on that. I left here until a few months ago and I moved to the Garden District, but we're -- I think most French Quarter residents think they're a tougher lot. And they are a tougher lot than a lot of folks in town.

It's fitting that this is the first place that's starting to get up and running. We Bienville made New Orleans the capital of Louisiana in 1722, a hurricane came a year later and blew it away. But they rebuild, a hurricane came again, they rebuilt. And so here we are still.

And this bar was up and running, I think, like a night or two nights after the hurricane. It has been doing exactly the kind of business you see here since. There are $5 hamburgers down the street. I mean, you know, businesses are opening and finally our neighbors uptown are kind of paying the same kind of attention, that is of today.

But the Quarter -- in fact, there's a meeting here tonight to sort of discuss the future of the Quarter. So people are engaged in their lives and engaged in the future. And in addition to the assorted sort of Quarter rats that run around here.


COLLINS: Julia tell me -- when you listen to everybody talk, and obviously at this meeting tonight they're going to be going over I can only imagine any number of issues, what's the main concern as you sit there and watch those people talking about their lives and talking about their business? What needs to happen right now today?

REED: Well, the good news for people that live in work in the Quarter is that are already a lot of -- you know, tourism is not exactly a booming business right now, but there is a captive audience here that wants to enjoy the things that the French Quarter traditionally has to offer.

And you know, you name it, there are journalists like me and there are insurance adjusters, you know, people drying out hotels. I mean, I can't tell you how many different folks are here doing the work that needs to be done to rebuild the city. And they will be for some time.

So I think that people that are -- that have visited in the Quarter are excited to get up and go. And a lot of hotels have reopened this week. Restaurants -- one of my favorite restaurateurs called me up today, Donald Link (ph) from Herbsing (ph). He's going to up and running a week from today. And so...


COLLINS: That's great news. REED: ... we'll see.

COLLINS: Right. Let me ask you about Mayor Nagin. I know that you have mentioned in the past that you wish you had saw a little bit more of him out in the streets, welcoming people back. And, of course, him announcing his bring back New Orleans commission just today.

Now why do you think that's not happening?

REED: Well, you know, he's not possibly the most dynamic leader that we could have hoped for. But the good news about Nagin is what we saw today when he was announcing his commission.

He's a straight arrow and it's good news for the citizens of New Orleans that we don't have a corrupt mayor, which has been -- corrupt city government has been our cross to bear for a long time. So the commission reflects the fact that Nagin is clean as a whistle. I think it's a really responsible group of people.

But I do think that he would -- it would behoove him to get out on the streets and mingle with folks that he keeps begging to come back to town.

COLLINS: Yes. It probably would. Julia Reed, we certainly appreciate your inside look at New Orleans for us tonight. Thanks so much.

REED: Thank you so much.

COLLINS: Good luck to you.

Thanks for joining us, everybody. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now. Have a good weekend.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines