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Guantanamo Detainee To Be Put On Trial in Military Tribunal After Eight Years of Imprisonment; Medical Aid Workers Executed in Afghanistan by Taliban; Private Manning's Private Life; Stopping the College Slide: Obama to Address Graduation Plunge; Manhunt for Escaped Convicts; Prescription Pills Suck; Freed After Toyota Recall

Aired August 9, 2010 - 07:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you. Thanks for joining us on the Most News in the Morning. It's the 9th of August. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. There's a lot to talk about this morning, so we get right to it.

We start with Guantanamo Bay's youngest detainee. Set to face a military trial. It will be the first big test of the Obama administration's revamped rules for military tribunals. We'll preview the case against Omar Khadr in a moment.

ROBERTS: Whatever happened to the old college try? President Obama visiting the University of Texas in Austin today to talk about education. The U.S. was number one in the world when it came to graduating college students. Now, we're number 12? How did that happen and how do we turn it around? We'll ask Education Secretary, Arne Duncan.

CHETRY: Also, the driver who spent three years in prison for a deadly runaway crash in a Toyota is a free man this morning. His conviction came before Toyota recalled millions of cars for sudden acceleration problems. What does he want to say to the prosecutors and also the victim's family? We'll talk to him coming up.

And of course the "A.M. fix" blog is up and running. Join the live conversation right now, CNN.com/amfix.

ROBERTS: We begin this morning on the CNN security watch. Eight years after he was captured in Afghanistan and charged with killing a U.S. soldier, Omar Khadr is going on trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

CHETRY: There is a lot at stake for the Obama administration on this one. Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve is live in Washington with more on this test case. Good morning, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, John, hi. Omar Khadr is the youngest Guantanamo detainee and the only westerner held there. His trial has drawn international criticism. It is also the first test of the Obama administration's revised military commission system.


MESERVE: Omar Khadr sobbing during an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay in 2008. For eight years the young Canadian has been in custody there. This week he is finally slated to have his day in court before a military commission. Khadr was 15 when he was picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

JOHN ALTENBURG, FORMER MILITARY COMMISSIONS OFFICIAL: There is evidence that he was making bombs. There's evidence that he was placing bombs as IEDs on roads in Afghanistan. And there is evidence that he is the person that threw a grenade that killed an American soldier.

MESERVE: Khadr's attorney strongly disagrees.

LT. COL. JON JACKSON, KHADR'S ATTORNEY: The evidence in this case is clear, clear, that Omar Khadr did not throw the grenade that killed Sergeant Chris Spear.

MESERVE: Omar Khadr's attorney says his client, now 23, was a child soldier, that interrogators threatened him with rape to obtain confessions, and that his client should be tried in federal court rather than in what he calls an illegitimate, illegal, and unequal military commission.

JACKSON: Separate is always unequal when it comes to a justice system. If you have a justice system that's set aside for none- citizens, it will never have validity.

MESERVE: Even recent reforms passed by Congress don't give defendants in military commissions the protections they would have in federal court. But a former top Pentagon lawyer believes they are fair and all detainees should be tried there.

ALTENBURG: I don't see the need or have the desire to put those people who are not citizens, who were detained on a battlefield, who were fighting against United States soldiers, I don't see giving them the same rights that United States citizens would have.


MESERVE: Khadr's case is expected to move forward this week. Its success or failure could affect the administration's decision on where to try the more notorious 9/11 conspirators -- courts or commissions. John and Kiran, back to you.

ROBERTS: Jeanne Meserve for us in Washington, thanks so much.

CHETRY: There's new attention this morning on the volatility in Afghanistan after the brutal killings of ten aid workers, six of them Americans. Our Jill Dougherty is live in Kabul with more details. I understand that the identities of more of those killed were known starting today.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, Kiran. Now we know the names of really all ten of them and six Americans. We'll be getting more details as they emerge and details of these people.

They were really very remarkable, most of them medical specialists, some of them doctors who had gone into the most remote areas of Afghanistan, way into the Hindu Kush mountains, trekking we're told, trekking into these mountains very, very dense area, into places where people have absolutely no medical care whatsoever.

And what they were doing was providing services, especially health for the eye, they did eye operations, maternal, and children's health. Now what is really the question is why exactly were they killed? At this news conference some of those questions came up. Did it start as a robbery? Did the Taliban actually directly target them?

The head of this organization, the International Assistance Mission, Dirk Frans, says is he not sure that it was actually the Taliban directly targeting them, that the police told them it might have been a robbery. But there is an investigation going on by the Ministry of the Interior.

And also, after this news conference, we did speak with Dirk Frans about the leader of this team that went in, an amazing man well into his 60s. And his name is Tom Little, a doctor. Here's what Dirk Frans said about Tom Little.


DIRK FRANS, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE MISSION: There was as far as I was concerned no one with the experience like Tom. I've only been in this country and position for two-in-and-a-half years. He had been here 35 years. I was officially in charge but there are few decisions I would make that I wouldn't consult Tom on because he just had the insights that nobody else had.


DOUGHERTY: So one of the questions that was raised, the Taliban accusing these people of actually being NATO spies and proselytizing for Christianity. They do happen to be a Christian organization, but the leader said definitively that they do not carry bibles, that they were not trying to convert anyone.

And one last thing, Kiran -- five of the eight families, the international families, said this they want their loved ones to be buried here in Afghanistan. And so the bodies are going to have to be returned to the United States for autopsy, we are told. But then some of them may actually be returned back here to be buried in the country whose people they really loved.

CHETRY: As we know, some of them spent decades there helping and doing all that they could to help the people there. Sad story for sure. Jill Dougherty, thank you.

ROBERTS: New this morning, a 14-year-old boy has confessed to accidentally setting a wildfire that burned through 40 acres and threatened 50 homes outside of Los Angeles. The team told police that he and a friend were smoking marijuana when he dropped the lighter in the dry brush.

CHETRY: In Pakistan the U.N. says millions of suffering and billions of dollars may be needed to help that country recover from the worst flooding in that country's history. Aid agencies are boosting their relief efforts in almost every part of the country right now. Pakistani authorities say about 1,200 people have died.

ROBERTS: And violent weather rocked the Midwest this morning. Storm chasers had a field day capturing some amazing pictures of a twister in Minnesota that ripped apart a farmhouse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, no, no, no.


ROBERTS: The National Weather Service says as many as seven tornadoes may have touched down in southeast North Dakota and western Minnesota over the weekend. It's pretty remarkable when you see just how close they got to big, big tornado.

CHETRY: Yes, a perfectly formed funnel cloud there. Literally looks like it is out of the movies especially when you see the thinner part rising up into the sky there.

It's eight minutes past the hour.


ROBERTS: He's the man at the center of a Pentagon investigation into the biggest military leak in history, but who exactly is Private Bradley Manning? Our Pentagon team has done some digging and has some answers for you coming up next. It's ten minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: It's 12 minutes after the hour. New this morning, full body scanners are about to land at New York City's three major airports. Those scanners that produce near-naked images will be installed next month at Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark liberty airports. Passengers who don't want to be scanned can opt for a pat- down instead and walk through the standard metal detector.

CHETRY: Don't worry, none of the images will be saved, none of the images.

Hollywood is mourning the loss of Oscar winning actress Patricia Neal who died Sunday. She was 84 years old. There are reports she was battling lung cancer. She is best known actually for her role in "Hud" and is being remember for making a remarkable comeback after a series of stokes left her temporarily unable to speak and walk.

ROBERTS: Protesters lined up outside the marine base in Quantico, Virginia, most rallying to support Army Private Bradley Manning. Military officials suspect Manning of leaking tens of thousands of pages of afghan war documents to the Web site WikiLeaks.org.

While some of the protesters were in support of manning, a few hundred yards away a handful of counter protesters held signs with bloody hands calling the leak "treasonous."

So how does a computer-savvy 22-year-old go from an intelligence analyst in Iraq to the man accused of the biggest military leak in American history? Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is investigating the private life of Bradley Manning and he joins us now live from the Pentagon. What are we discovering about manning, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's a long trail, John. We tried to answer that question and get a better answer of exactly what makes Private Manning tick.


LAWRENCE: Private Bradley Manning's small town life ended at the age of 13. His parents separated and his mom moved them out of Oklahoma overseas to Wales. There in the U.K., CNN tracked down old friends who told us manning didn't back down from school bullies.

TOM DYER, PREP SCHOOL FRIEND: He would always stick up for himself and for others, even if he knew he couldn't particularly win the battle.

LAWRENCE: And how he loved computers.

JAMES KIRKPATRICK, PREP SCHOOL FRIEND: He was doing hide coding, as a programmer, hide coding is some of the most complicated stuff from the ages of 14, 15. It was really talented guy.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Eventually Manning's skill with computers would get him in trouble. He'd end up here at Quantico locked up in solitary confinement. But there were other steps along the way.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): We know Manning moved back to the States five years ago. One night he came to this gay bar here in D.C., met another young man who had been in the Army. But this man had a very positive experience about being gay in the military and he talked to Manning about the discipline and everything else he had learned.

"TIM," FRIEND OF PFC. BRADLEY MANNING: I would say that it started out as a physical relationship that turned into a friendship.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): We'll call him "Tim" to protect his privacy.

(on camera): What did he tell you about his background?

"TIM": He was, you know, very hurt as a person. He felt verbally, emotionally abused because of his sexuality. And so I thought maybe the Army could do for him what it had done to me.

LAWRENCE: It didn't. "Tim" says Manning was verbally abused, right from boot camp.

"TIM": Brad just took the harassment as, well, he's making fun of me, you know, and that's not right and I feel bad about it.

LAWRENCE (on camera): What did he write or say to you about the fact that the Army put him into that MOS?

"TIM": He said I can't believe I'm an intel analyst. I can't believe they made me an intel analyst.

LAWRENCE: So you last saw him two years ago. And at that point he had just gotten into a relationship with someone that you told us had sort of a profound effect.

"TIM": Yes.

LAWRENCE: On his outlook.

"TIM": Through him, Brad was able to really sort of discover in himself, you know, that it was wrong, the discrimination, and how "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," for example, sort of created an atmosphere in which that could happen because of, you know, silence, because of your required silence.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): On Manning's Facebook page, he did take stands, supporting the repeal of California's ban on gay marriage and ending the law of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"TIM": In my opinion, I feel that sexuality, his own sexuality and what had happened to him in the military, coupled with the policy of the military played a significant role in the reason as to why he did what he did.


LAWRENCE: And again, that's an opinion and it's things that he's accused of. Nothing's been proven. We mention that Manning is in prison, but that's because he's accused of leaking a secret military video to WikiLeaks. He has not been charged with leaking those Afghanistan documents, but the Pentagon does say he is their main person of interest -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: And these 90 -- more than 90,000 documents that were posted on WikiLeaks, just the tip of the iceberg, we understand. They have a lot more secret U.S. military files that they may be preparing to release. What are you hearing from the Pentagon this morning about that?

LAWRENCE: Yes, John. This file is about 20 times larger than the one we just saw here a few weeks ago. And what we're hearing is, if you go on WikiLeaks' Web site, there is a file, it's encrypted, enclosed. It's called "insurance." To some Pentagon officials, that sounds rather ominous. In fact, one senior defense official told me it sounds like intimidation, like they're trying to get the Pentagon to back off. The Pentagon says it will not. It still wants its documents back. But some believe that what's inside this insurance file could be anything from intelligence reports to diplomatic correspondence -- John.

ROBERTS: We'll see where this goes. Chris Lawrence for us live at the Pentagon this morning. Chris, thanks so much.

Well, America's colleges are the envy of the world. So why aren't our students? Education Secretary Arne Duncan coming right up on why we've gone from number one in the world in college graduation rates to number 12. What is going on?

Nineteen minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 22 minutes past the hour right now.

The President will be in Texas this afternoon at the University of Texas in Austin. And he'll be there talking about higher education and how to get America back on top. Why? Well, there is a recent report out showing that the U.S. has actually fallen from at one time being number one, now down to number 12 in college graduation rates. And that can have major consequences. Here with a preview of the president's speech is Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He's at the White House this morning.

Great to talk to you again, Arne. Thanks for being here.

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Good morning. Thank for having me.

CHETRY: So let me ask you, first of all, about what the president is going to be talking about today. I mean, when you read it, you were thinking you go from number one and, I mean, a huge source of pride but also in terms of future, you know, economic viability being able to graduate from college and what that means for the rest of the course of your life really. Why have we seen such a dramatic drop? Why are we now number 12 in the world?

DUNCAN: Yes. Well, I think what happened, quite frankly, is over the past generation and we did lead the world a generation ago in college graduate graduates, we've grown complacent. We've flat lined, we've stagnating and other countries have passed us by. And I think frankly, we're paying a price for that economically. I'm convinced we have to educate our way to a better economy.

So what the president has done, he's drawn a line in the sand. He said by 2020, we have to again lead the world in a percent of college graduates. That means over the next decade we'll need about an additional eight million more college graduates and everything we're doing in terms of driving the reform agenda K to 12, making college much more accessible and affordable, over $60 billion in increase of Pell Grants, simplifying the financial aid forms so the form itself is not a barrier to college. Everything we're doing is towards that goal, that North Star of again leading the world in college graduates by the year 2020. CHETRY: Let's break down a couple of the points that you mentioned. Number one, making college more affordable. You know, we had -- we've been in some tough times and it used to be a no-brainer, you graduate high school and you know you're going to go to a four- year college, if you can get in. Now people are having to make a choice based on economics and whether or not they can afford it. How do we make college more affordable to people who are achieving, they just don't have the money?

DUNCAN: And that's been something that's really troubling me historically. We had a fundamental break-through. We simply stopped subsidizing banks, cut them out as the middleman in terms of making loans. The Department of Education is going to loan directly. That added $60 billion to increase Pell Grants over the next decade, so a huge step in the right direction. Also, increase the tax credit for middle class families going on to college. And so what we can do now is look every child in the eye across the country now and say no matter how tough things might be at home, or in your community, if you work hard, that opportunity to go to college is going to be there.

We've also made a huge investment in community colleges. I think they're sort of the unpolished gem along the education continuum. And we have not just 18-year-olds but 38-year-olds and 58-year-olds going back to retrain and retool. We put an additional $2 billion behind the nation's community colleges as well. So massive investments to make college, both four-year and two-year more accessible and more affordable.

CHETRY: You know, and Mr. Secretary, when you look at some of the stats as well, you got 70 percent of high school graduates who enroll. Then when it comes to actual completion, that number drops. We're down to 57 percent that actually graduate within six years. They say for low-income and minority students, that is an even lower percentage. How do you, once you actually get to college, make sure that you complete it?

DUNCAN: Well, let me take you back a step because this is actually -- that's a great question. These are pretty complex issues. First of all, we have to raise standards on the K to 12 side. And we've had now over 30 states adopt much higher standards, college and career-ready standards. What we've been doing for far too long, quite frankly, is dummy-down standards due to political pressure, reducing standards and in effect lying to children, lying to families telling them they're ready and they're actually not.

And so what we said to universities is we have to get them out of the remediation business where the much higher bar students who graduate from high school will actually be college and career ready. So we have to work on a pipeline, the front end. And back then --

CHETRY: I want to ask you about that real quick. You talk about the pipeline and because of the budget crunch that many states are seeing, we are seeing the pipeline get cut. Just a couple of reports out even over the weekend of eliminating pre-K programs because some of these states have no money. Arizona, for example, wants to eliminate 5,500 child programs entirely. Illinois was forced to cut, they say, $32 million from their fiscal year's pre-K budget and they actually have plans to slash nearly $50 million more. And we're seeing this repeated in many states across the country. What do we do about the fact that when money dries up pre-K and some of these vital programs for young, young kids get cut?

DUNCAN: Yes. All of that is a disaster. Reducing pre-K, eliminating summer school, eliminating the after-school, none of those are good for children. None of those are good for education.

There's actually a bill that passed the Senate last week. It's going to the House tomorrow, a $10 billion package that would save north of 160,000 teacher jobs around the country. We're very, very hopeful that will pass the House tomorrow. And if it does, we'll keep those teachers teaching in the classroom, not on the unemployment lines as we go into the fall. We'll be able to do more in terms of after-school and extracurricular activities.

And so, it's a huge opportunity for us to step up and provide some relief to those districts and those states that are going through very tough times now. So it's a huge vote in the House tomorrow. And we're very hopeful that will pass.

CHETRY: You know, there was some criticism of where some of the stimulus money was going. We had Senator John McCain tweeting the top ten, I guess, worst uses of federal stimulus dollars. One was ripping up a fairly new sidewalk to repave it with another sidewalk that led to basically a ditch. Is there any re-assessing of where some of this money is going in light of some of these states really suffering in these education programs?

DUNCAN: Well, I think again, it is just very, very tough economy out there now. Luckily you haven't seen any kinds of stories like that on educational issues. This is absolutely the right investment. We have to invest. We have to educate our way to a better economy.

So, one is investing in pre-K, as you talked about, whether it's K to 12 reform or whether it's making college more accessible and more affordable, this has to be a cradle to career continuum. And what the president has done with the support of the House and Senate is make a massive investment in very tough times to help us educate our way to a better economy. It's the only way we're going to get there.

CHETRY: Quickly on a lighter note, I just have to ask. You guys played some basketball yesterday, I understand with the president.

DUNCAN: We did.

CHETRY: I know you're part of his team. You guys played LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, all these all-stars, former all-stars like Magic Johnson. How did you hold up?

DUNCAN: We had a lot of fun. And the great days is phenomenal. We're hanging out with those guys. They were so nice to the young people who were there and some of the wounded warriors who were there. And the president played really well, hit a three, had a couple of nice passes. So we had a great birthday celebration with him. It was a dream come true. It was an amazing day.

CHETRY: It must have been. All right. Well, great to talk to you this morning. Arne Duncan, education secretary from the White House lawn for us this morning, thanks.

DUNCAN: Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: He spent three years in jail, almost three years in jail on a conviction of aggravated vehicular manslaughter but he is a free man because Toyota recalled millions of vehicles. Koua Fong Lee coming up in just a few minutes here on the Most News in the Morning.

Twenty-nine minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Crossing the half hour now, which means it's time for this morning's top stories. BP has just released its latest tally on the total cost of its response to the gulf oil disaster. $6.1 billion and counting. Later on today a caravan of supporters will make its way from Missouri down to the Gulf Coast. They plan to stop and spend money in small businesses along the gulf in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle, all week long.

A manhunt for two escaped killers and their female accomplice now focused in and around Yellowstone National Park. Authorities say the fugitives John McCluskey and Tracey Province have been linked to a double murder in New Mexico since their escape from an Arizona prison 10 days ago. They say the two are very dangerous and very desperate.

And at midnight tonight certain Blackberry services in Saudi Arabia could be banned but there are reports the smart phone maker is close to an agreement that would give the Saudis greater access to encrypted information sent by Blackberry devices. Saudi Arabian officials are concerned that Blackberry e-mails and messages pose a security threat because the information is routed through servers overseas making it difficult for local governments to track. Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, the dangers of prescription drug use. We've actually seen prescription pill addiction rise exponentially over the past decade. The addiction doesn't discriminate. It's actually claimed the lives of, as we've heard, the rich and famous as well as teenagers who could be living in your own neighborhood.

As part of our special series "Addicted," we introduce you to three young people who talked to us and shared very, very candid moments of their life about how prescription drugs became a way of life for them quickly.


MELISSA, 18-YEAR-OLD DRUG USER: Twenty-milligram Adderall. They're pretty wonderful because they taste like oranges.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They taste like orange Tic-Tacs. Yum, yum, yum.

CHETRY (voice-over): We first met 18-year-old Melissa in April.

(on camera): How did you first get introduced to drugs?

MELISSA: My mother was prescribed Xanax. I began taking them as well. It was just like kind of an immediate comfort from them.

CHETRY (voice-over): Melissa and her best friend who asked to be called Sara told us snorting crushed up pills was a daily habit.

(on camera): How long did it take to you get addicted?

SARA, DRUG USER: I wouldn't really say that I'm addicted. Like I've been on and off.

CHETRY: Do you think you could stop today?


CHETRY: Why not?

SARA: Because I've tried. I mean I think I made it three days.

ADAM, 20-YEAR OLD DRUG USER: I just fell in love with it.

CHETRY (voice-over): Adam is Melissa's cousin, now sober. He says he overdosed 15 times before getting clean.

ADAM: It's just like you need it and you don't want to do anything else and you don't care about anything else. You'll spend every last penny you have just to have that feeling. And for me that was immediate.

CHETRY: All three say they started abusing drugs when they were just 13. Fast forward five years, Melissa's been in and out of rehab three times, is a high school drop-out and has been arrested. She told us she was well aware of her losing battle with pills, yet continued to abuse.

MELISSA: I most certainly am an addict. Like, "hi, my name is Melissa. I'm an addict and I'm an alcoholic. Like I know that I am. Like, I really do just make excuses. I need to clean my room but I have no ambition. I'll take an Adderall, yes, my room needs to be cleaned. That's why I took it. Yes, that's why. Just dumb excuses, dumb reasons, just telling myself it is OK. It is not OK.

CHETRY (on camera): And so where do you -- after having that type of self-realization, where do you take the next step? What's next?

MELISSA: Honestly, from here, like I don't know where everything's going to go. But I want to try. I want to try really, really hard to stop making excuses for why I do these things because it's not getting me anywhere.

CHETRY (voice-over): Then two hours later, after we finished our interview, Melissa and Sara were snorting Adderall in their car.

SARA: Prescription pills suck. They suck! They suck. I am currently high on them and it's not worth it. It's not worth it.

CHETRY: But even that wasn't her lowest. She would hit rock bottom in two days.

(on camera): You've certainly been through a lot since we last spoke.

MELISSA: It was a really, really rough month.

CHETRY: So what happened? After we left, you know, you had spoken really candidly. You didn't feel that doing drugs was going to get you anywhere. What happened after that?

MELISSA: I went over to a friend's house and I thought I was having a good time. And I ended up trying to commit suicide. I felt really lonely and I guess a lot of times when you're using drugs, that's how you end up feeling. But I felt really alone and I felt worthless and I tried to commit suicide.

I don't remember calling an ambulance or how it got to me but I went to the hospital. I was in intensive care for four days. They told me I was 15 minutes away from death.

CHETRY: What did you take?

MELISSA: I took Benadryl, Tylenol, Aleve, Advil, basically there was some prescription pills that were in there. I took some of those as well. I'm not sure what they were. I basically went for anything I could get my hands on.

CHETRY: So after you came to, in the hospital, what was the first thing that went through your mind?

MELISSA: The first thing that came to my mind was wanting to get high and thinking that I needed to be high.

CHETRY (voice-over): It wasn't until her fifth day in the hospital that Melissa finally saw through her addiction.

MELISSA: I have been in rehab and it wasn't enough for me. It didn't strike me as that serious but being 15 minutes away from death, that was my bottom. That's as low as I can get and it made me realize what I need to do.


CHETRY: So join us tomorrow. We've been following Melissa's story. She made the decision to try to turn her life around. So did she do it? We'll tell you what's happened to her since we first brought you her story tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: It is just sad when you see her keep going back to doing the drugs even though she says that she wants to get off of them.

CHETRY: That's right. She's been in rehab before and you know, a lot of people say it takes something like what happened to her, you know, to be 15 minutes away from death and to hear that to want to make that change or to actually be able to make that change.

ROBERTS: I'm looking forward to seeing what happened to her tomorrow.

He was freed from jail after being in jail for three years when Toyota recalled millions of its vehicles. Meet (INAUDIBLE) Lee coming up next on the most news in the morning. It's 38 minutes after the hour.



ROBERTS: It's 41 minutes after the hour. A man who spent three years in prison for a fatal crash is free this morning and Toyota's massive recall may have helped win his release. Koua Fong Lee was released last Thursday and got to spend some time with his family this weekend. The accident happened back in 2006. Koua Fong Lee was driving an older model Toyota Camry, a 1996 model.

It wasn't one of the ones that was subject to any of the recent recalls but the attention from his case prompted the review and turned up new evidence and some new witnesses. No one is happier about that than Koua Fong Lee who joins us now along with his attorney Brent Schafer. They're in St. Paul, Minnesota for us this morning.

Good to see you this morning. You had the weekend at home after so long. How was it to be back home? What did you do? I imagine you had a lot of catching up to do.

KOUA FONG LEE, FREED AFTER CONVICTION IN TOYOTA CRASH: Good morning. So I feel really good about that. I feel very good to see my family, to see the world again and to hold my wife and my children. Doing very good.

ROBERTS: Yes. I'm sure it must have just been an amazing opportunity for you to try to get to know them, including the newest addition to your family who was born after you were in jail. You maintained, Koua, your innocence all along in this. You said that the car just ran away from you.

Are you bitter about the fact that you spent that long in jail? You missed so much of your life and now you're free because no one believed that the car ran away from you?

LEE: So I don't know about that. But I feel very good to see my wife, my children and I also want people to know that I'm not the one who caused the accident and I try everything I could to stop my car.

ROBERTS: Right. You maintained that you hit the brakes, that your foot was on the brakes there. Nobody believed you at first. But Brent, some new evidence has come to light after the Toyota recalls. We should point out that this 1996 model Toyota Camry was not one of the ones that was subject to the recall but it may be in fact that a very tiny light bulb had a lot to do with Koua being a free man today.

BRENT SCHAFER, ATTORNEY FOR KOUA FONG LEE: That's correct. We found out. It was actually it was known back in 2006 not long after this accident occurred that if you were to look at the brake filament, you would have been able to tell that the brake lamp was illuminated at the time of the impact which basically was evidence in support of Koua's story that the car was out of control and that he did everything to stop it so in fact his foot was on the brake.

That evidence was known, you know, prior to the trial. In addition, there was evidence at trial that this car did not have ABS brakes which was a big part of the state's case. Because there were no skid marks they concluded that Koua was not on the brakes and that was simply false testimony and I think that was also a key issue that led to his conviction.

ROBERTS: Yes, because in fact, this car did have ABS brakes, which would have minimized any skid marks, if not eliminated them all together. But when it comes to this light bulb, you found evidence that the way that it broke, the light had to be illuminated, that filament had to be heated up because it literally exploded and evaporate whereas if his foot was not on the brakes and that lamp was cold, the filament would have just broken off and started rolling around inside the light bulb itself?

SCHAFER: Yes, it is called hot shock. At the point of impact you can tell whether that filament has been illuminated or there is electricity to it by looking at the condition of the filament after the impact. In this case by looking at the filament, it was clear and I don't think any experts disagree with this, that the brakes were on at the point of impact.

ROBERTS: You know, Koua, it is great that you're out of jail now. The judge ordered a retrial, but the prosecutor has said that they're not interested in -- in trying you again.

But still, it doesn't change the fact that three people are dead as a result of that 2006 accident, Javis Adams, his 10-year-old son and 7-year-old niece. Do you still struggle with that, to this day?

LEE: Yes. Today, I'm free now, so I feel very good to reunion with my family and to be with my family, but it's still in my mind, that this accident caused three lives.


LEE: And even though I'm returned to my family, I'm free, but three people that died on that day cannot return to their families.

ROBERTS: Yes, and I'm sure it's difficult to deal with. You know, the family has supported your -- your release from jail. I know that you haven't talked to them yet, but do you plan to have a conversation with them at some point?

LEE: Right now it is too -- I think it is too soon. But, in the future, I will.

ROBERTS: All right.

Well Koua Fong Lee, I'm sure it's wonderful to be back with your family after spending three years away from them. Brent Schafer, thanks so much for being with us this morning. Appreciate you both for showing up to share you story.

LEE: Thank you.

SCHAFER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: All right.

CHETRY: Well, still ahead, billionaires are lining up to give vast fortunes to charity. It's part of the campaign kicked off by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They want to give it all away, and they want to encourage others who have been blessed with large amounts of money to do the same.

Lorry Lokey of -- of -- the founder of "Business Wire" is going to be joining us. He estimates he's given away about 90 percent of his fortune, approaching $700 million.

Also, Rob Marciano is going to be along with your morning travel forecast right after the break.

It's 47 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: All right, 77 degrees. A look at Miami courtesy of WSVN this morning. Right now it is pretty cool out, and I guess they're going to zoom in closer and closer as they watch this. Sunny, by the way, and a high of 88 in Miami.

ROBERTS: All right. Let's get a quick check of this morning's weather across the country because it's not that way everywhere.


ROBERTS: In fact, it's pretty cool in California.

Rob Marciano in Atlanta where certainly it's plenty hot this morning, and storms across the northwest part of the country too. Or the northern part of the country.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I guess you guys are -- you tried your (ph) equal time. Either that or try to instigate a battle between the, you know, South Beach girls and the California girls by showing Miami and playing that song.

But, nonetheless, it's going to will be cool on the West Coast, warm on the East Coast and in between we had some thunderstorms that produced some tornadoes yesterday. Check out this amazing video coming at us from Wilkin County, Minnesota. These are storm chasers, professionals, so they got really close to this one and it did tear up a farm house and some other farm structures, but nobody injured. Dramatic stuff there.

Touchdown around 6:30 local time Saturday night, and this was clocked -- later surveyed yesterday by the National Weather Service to have winds of probably 150 miles an hour or more. They think it was at least an EF-3 tornado. So a major tornado there and certainly tearing up a -- a pretty good chunk of real estate in that part of the world.

We are seeing some thunderstorms right now across parts of the western Great Lakes and through Chicago. These are no longer severe, but certainly some rough weather heading towards Lower Michigan, and I think the heat is going to be the big issue again today. We're starting to bring it back into areas that saw it last week, including the midsection of the country where 105 to 120 degree indexes will be common, especially up towards the north. It's going to be well above average, and temperatures will be getting higher towards the northeast, and there's your cool spot out west, up and down the California coastline.

That's a quick check on weather. AMERICAN MORNING is coming right back.



WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Excuse me. You are under arrest, OK?


FERRELL: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do or say can be used -- what's the next word?

MARK WAHLBERG, ACTOR: As a floatation device.

FERRELL: As a flotation device.


ROBERTS: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg buddied up to end "Inception's" three-week reign at the top of the box office. The cop comedy "The Other Guys" debuted at number one, earning $35.6 million over the weekend. "Inception" was second, taking an $18.6 million. "Step Up 3D" finished third with $15.5 million.

CHETRY: Well, hard times have hit the Mountain Lake Hotel, west of Roanoke, Virginia. You may not know it by its real name, but if you loved movies of the '80s, especially "Dirty Dancing," you'll know it was Kellerman's.


CHETRY (voice-over): Well, as you know, it is Kellerman's. It's from the '80s, of course, "Dirty Dancing," the classic. Quoting the "Roanoke Times," the owners have been forced to cut their staff by more than half to try to make ends meet.

They blame the bad business on two things, the economy and also the resort's famous lake is down 50 feet because a natural cycle drains it every few hundred years. They say that over the past two years it's down to about a third of what it was in terms of water level.

ROBERTS: That's amazing. And, obviously, nothing you can do about that either.

Soon tourists will be able to stroll through the Colosseum in Rome at night. Officials have decided to open the monument for 9:00 P.M. until midnight for seven Saturdays starting later on this month. Normally, the Colosseum's only open during the day, but last year some night nighttime tours increased tourism by five percent. So they thought, heck, let's try it again.

CHETRY: Pretty cool. All right. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back in just a couple of minutes with your top stories.


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