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CNN NEWSROOM

GOP Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene Defends Comparing Mask Mandate To Holocaust; George Floyd's Family Holds March For Anniversary Of His Death; Interview With Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) About Bipartisan Bills In Congress; Conspiracy-Driven Election Audit In Arizona Resumes; DNA Suggests Executed Arkansas Man Innocent Of Crime; Knicks Will Host 15,000 Fans For NBA Playoff Return. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 23, 2021 - 16:00   ET

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


BILL CARTER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "THE STORY OF LATE NIGHT": And they find Jon Stewart, and that's also part of the show tonight. So this is an incredible era of great talent in late-night.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: It's fantastic. And then all of our sleeping patterns were all messed up because then we're staying up all night to try and take in and watch all of them.

CARTER: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: Bill Carter, well, we'll be staying up tonight to watch your brand-new CNN Original Series "The Story of Late Night." That's at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.

All right. Thanks again, everyone, for joining me this weekend. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Jim Acosta.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. And today there is growing outrage on Capitol Hill over GOP lightning rod Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene in a remark she made comparing mask mandates to the horrors of the holocaust. But predictably and also shamefully the Georgia Republican is doubling down on her comments. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREEN (R-GA): I stand by all of my statements. I said nothing wrong and I think any rational Jewish person didn't like what happened in Nazi Germany and any rational Jewish person doesn't like what's happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you understand, though, why some would be upset and offended by the comment?

GREENE: Well, do you understand how people feel about being forced to wear mask or being forced to have to take a vaccine or even have to say that whether they've taken it or not? These are just things that shouldn't be happening in America. This is a free country. (END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: To be clear there is no equivalence here but for reference here is Greene's original comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREENE: You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star and they were definitely treated like second class citizens so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Suzanne, how are members of Congress responding to this? Once again members of Congress are going to be asked about Marjorie Taylor Greene's comments that just are beyond the pale once again.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, there are a lot of lawmakers who are speaking out today saying it is outrageous, it's offensive, at the very least it is very ignorant of her to say these comments but I should also let you know there doesn't seem to be much appetite for punishing her necessarily for these comments. She had already lost her committee assignments a long time ago for previous controversial and offensive comments that she's made in the past.

It is possible that Congress could censure her but there doesn't seem to be any discussion or move afoot about this. But there are individual members, lawmakers who say that it is absolutely unacceptable that she is using this language making this kind of ridiculous comparisons.

We did hear from freshman Republican Congressman Peter Meijer. He is somebody who voted for Trump's impeachment. Also supports the independent bipartisan bill if you will for an investigation of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. And he had some very strong words for Congresswoman Greene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): Any comparisons to the holocaust -- it's beyond reprehensible. This is -- I don't even have words to describe how disappointing it is to see this hyperbolic speech that frankly amps up and plays into a lot of the anti-Semitism that we've been seeing in our society today. Vicious attacks on the streets of New York and in Los Angeles that should be, and I do condemn that in the strongest terms, there is no excuse for that.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Jim, most people are actually weighing in on Twitter with this conversation and her criticism. We heard from Congresswoman Liz Cheney saying this is evil lunacy.

Congressman Adam Kinzinger saying absolute sickness and then a Democrat, Congressman Jim McGovern weighing in as well saying Representative Greene's anti-Semitic language comparing the systematic murder of six million Jews during the holocaust to wearing a mask is beyond disturbing. She is a deeply troubled person who needs to apologize and resign. GOP leader needs to address her anti-Semitism.

Jim, it is notable that there are no tweets from the GOP leadership. There doesn't seem to be any appetite for at least publicly addressing what she has said -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Well, Suzanne, I mean, that is the big question at this hour is where is the comment from Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, other Republican leaders in the House? Why aren't they condemning this. We'll be following it. I know you'll stay on top of it as well.

Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for being with us.

And joining me now is Rabbi Joshua Stanson who is a senior fellow at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

[16:05:06]

Rabbi, let's talk about why this talk is so dangerous to compare something like a mask mandate to the holocaust. I mean, obviously it's ridiculous to compare a mask mandate or mask restrictions to the holocaust but I think even more disturbing here is the potential to minimize the profound seriousness of the holocaust when you engage in this kind of rhetoric.

RABBI JOSHUA STANTON, SENIOR FELLOW, NATIONAL JEWISH CENTER FOR LEARNING AND LEADERSHIP: It's an appropriation of our history. It is a misuse and a false understanding of history that can continue to cause unnecessary deaths among Jews and among so many people. It is not her place to tell people what happened during the holocaust. In fact, it is the place of those who are victims and children of victims and grandchildren.

If you were to look at my family tree, you would see that most branches have been cut off summarily. So it's not her place. If anything perhaps it is a bit more of mine to describe the significance of those dark times. To put it in context, and numbers never do justice to the horrible realities. The Jewish population in the world has still not recovered since 1945. Our numbers are still down because we lost so many people. And our hearts remain broken.

You cannot destroy a third of an entire people and expect us somehow to go back to business as usual as though life were just normal and then to have a leader in the United States speak falsely about our history, to weaponize it against us, to use it not just in wolf whistles but in actual anti-Semitic tropes, to speak of something like a Jewish space laser. This is hate. The leadership needs to speak out against her. Representative McCarthy has a duty to the Jewish community to either

speak out against her or push her to resign, and I so miss the time when parties held their own accountable for words of hate, words that could potentially be linked to violence and words that are far beneath the leaders of our country.

ACOSTA: Well, that is absolutely true. We just don't see enough of that in Washington anymore. Let me ask you, though, if Congresswoman Greene was watching right now, what would you say to her? What would be your message to her right now?

STANTON: I would say, stop speaking, start listening, start learning. Join me when it becomes safe after the pandemic, God willing, join me on a trip to Auschwitz. Join me on a trip to some of the horrific ghettos.

Join me on a trip so that you can actually learn what the holocaust was about rather than appropriating my history, lying about the Jewish people and using it for political gain among right-wing extremists who have ideals that are not so different from the Nazis, who took the lives of so many of my family members.

ACOSTA: And we all remember Charlottesville in 2017, the shocking and horrific images of people carrying torches and shouting Jews will not replace us and blood and soil. At the time, I had this exchange with then President Trump at the time. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The neo-Nazis started it, sir. The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville. They showed up in Charlottesville --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Excuse me --

ACOSTA: -- to protest the removal of --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group but you also had people that were very fine people. On both sides. You had people --

ACOSTA: No, sir. The Nazis -- there are no fine people in the Nazis.

TRUMP: Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.

ACOSTA: There are no fine people in the Nazis.

TRUMP: You had people in that group that we're there to protest the taking down of -- to them -- a very, very important statue.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Rabbi, do you think that four years later we still feel the damaging effects from Trump's response to Charlottesville? You know, one of the I think disturbing things that we're seeing these days is this rise in anti-Semitic attacks across the country. Your thoughts on where things stand right now for the Jewish community in dealing with hate in the United States?

STANTON: The former president brought hate to the mainstream. And we are feeling the ripple effects right now. The idea that we could even have a conversation about whether there are good and bad Nazis indicates how far we've fallen. This is not simply an era of polarization. This is an era of fanaticism and the right-wing has moved to the point, the extreme right, that it now is akin to fascism. We need to do more and it is time to act, not just speak.

And I have to say, you did something very brave. You spoke out against falsehoods being preached from the biggest podium in the country. And I think that's where it begins. We need to reclaim healthy dialogue and discourse.

[16:10:03]

We need to reclaim a notion that what we say has to relate in a meaningful way to facts. That we can differ on the basis of how we interpret those facts but that we need to have a shared sense of what history was so that we can learn from it and apply it meaningfully today.

And what is so scary is that on the extreme right, there is an effort to lie about the past both in the United States and in Europe, in an effort to shape the future in a way that will be harmful for the majority of Americans who are connected in many different ways to different religious communities, cultural communities, different linguistic communities.

So we need to reclaim the past, engage in an honest assessment of what actually happened so that we know how we got here and we know how we can change course.

ACOSTA: All right. Rabbi Joshua Stanton, powerful words and a powerful warning for you as well. Thank you so much for spending time with us. It's a sad state of affairs that we have to have these kinds of lessons taught to us over and over again but I think some need that more than others. So we appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

STANTON: Thank you so much.

ACOSTA: Coming up next, this week marks one year since George Floyd's murder in police custody. Minneapolis is preparing to mark this somber anniversary and we'll take you there live.

Plus, it's the film that made Sharon Stone a star but the actress says "Basic Instinct" is also the thing that almost broke her. Now she wants to stop a more expletive cut of the film from being released. Sharon Stone, the legendary actress, she joins us live next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:07] ACOSTA: This afternoon a rally and march will take place in downtown Minneapolis in honor of George Floyd. Tuesday, May 25th will mark one year since Floyd's murder was captured on cell phone video for the whole world to see. His death at the knee of a now former and convicted police officer ignited a national reckoning on issues of race, police treatment of black Americans and law enforcement reform.

Today's rally kicks off three days of events marking the anniversary. And let's bring in CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns in Minneapolis.

Joe, great to see you. What are we seeing there ahead of today's march?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's so hard to believe it's been a whole year now, and just a little while we are expecting to see Brigitte, the sister of George Floyd, as well as Ben Crump who's an attorney who's been a fixture in many of these civil rights battles across the country, as well as Reverend Al Sharpton.

I talked to him just a little while ago. He said his message is going to be for people up on Capitol Hill who are working on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill which is stalled in negotiations on the hill. His message is going to be for them to take their time, get it right, make sure they pass a bill with teeth even if it takes a little bit longer than expected.

As you may know, Jim, President Biden has suggested he'd like to see that bill on his desk enacted into law by the anniversary. It doesn't appear that it's going to happen. Some of the members of the Floyd family are going to be at the White House but no bill in part because it's stalled over the issue of qualified immunity which is a doctrine in the law, if you will, that says police officers who erroneously violate the constitutional rights of citizens can get a pass on liability. The reformers say it's got to go because of accountability issues.

As you know around the country there have been numerous other incidents of black people that are being killed in confrontations with police. A couple of marches just this past week, one in Elizabeth City, that is North Carolina as well as South Carolina in Charleston. And the battle continues.

So the focus here, Jim, is going to be on politics which is sort of the way the George Floyd death has morphed into a political movement. Back to you.

ACOSTA: That is absolutely the case, Joe Johns, and we're waiting to see in Washington if anything will get done about it.

Joe Johns in Minneapolis for us, thanks so much.

And joining me now is Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

Congressman, great to see you. President Biden will meet with the Floyd family on Tuesday, as you know, the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death. That's also the same day lawmakers are likely to miss this deadline that President Biden had for a bipartisan police reform bill. One of the sticking points, as Joe mentioned, remains this issue of qualified immunity for police.

Do you think Democrats would be willing to let that go for the time being in order to get something done?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, good to be with you, Jim. I think Democrats are focused on making sure we can get the most comprehensive bill possible, and that's a value that is shared with Senate, the House and President Joe Biden, and of course Vice President Kamala Harris. We've got to make sure that in America we can transform policing from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality.

Far too many police officers, not everyone but far too many have a warrior mentality, and when you have that type of approach to policing, you tend to view certain communities as enemy combatants. And through that kind of view, you see instances like the brutal murder like George Floyd. And that's what we fundamentally want to change and we need to get it right.

[16:20:03]

ACOSTA: And I want to switch to this issue of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. I'm sure you've seen her comments. She compared Speaker Pelosi's mask mandates in the House to the holocaust. She's stanning by her remarks. We just had a very passionate rabbi speak to the issue just in the last several minutes. This is deeply offensive to the Jewish community here in the United States. What is your reaction? Do you think Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene should resign?

JEFFRIES: Well, it's an issue to be worked out first and foremost by Kevin McCarthy who has totally lost control of the House Republican Conference. The House Republicans at this point are really a three- ring circus and the ringmaster is Donald Trump, it's Marjorie Taylor Greene, it's Matt Gaetz, and others who don't really have any perspective about trying to get things done for everyday Americans.

That's what House Democrats are working on. We want to continue to crush the virus, provide direct relief and assistance to everyday Americans, and lay the foundation for a strong economy. That's what the American Rescue Plan was all about. That is what the American Jobs Plan will be all about. We're going to continue to do the business of the people. They are totally out of control.

ACOSTA: And what do you think should be done about Marjorie Taylor Greene? I don't want to spend too much time on her, but she keeps making these outlandish comments. Obviously, they're attention seeking. She wants to make a name for herself and so on. But she's gotten to the point where she is just totally, you know, offensive to the Jewish community and so many Americans across this country continues to make these comments that just sound very anti-Semitic.

JEFFRIES: Well, you know, her anti-Semitic conduct didn't begin when she became a member of the House of Representatives. She has a history of making offensive remarks, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist and bigoted, and instead of being denounced by Kevin McCarthy and the House Republican leadership, they've embraced her.

And when you think about that contrast, Liz Cheney was thrown out of the leadership because she chose the rule of law over the big lie. She chose patriotism over party and so they excommunicate Liz Cheney while continued to embrace Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Republican Party has fallen off of a cliff. They are a full-blown cult and that's a shame because we do need a functioning two-party system to have a functioning democracy in America.

ACOSTA: And I want to turn to the bill for a bipartisan commission to study the events surrounding the January 6th insurrection. You gave a very passionate speech on the floor of the House about this. Let's play a little bit of that and talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFRIES: They urinated, defecated and desecrated the citadel of our democracy. It was a violent attack designed to bring about one objective. Halt Congress from undertaking our constitutional responsibilities, and yet a few of my colleagues seem to want to convince America that it was all puppies and rainbows.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: We know it wasn't puppies and rainbows, Congressman. What are your thoughts now that it looks like this legislation is dead on arrival in the Senate?

JEFFRIES: I'm optimistic actually, Jim, that we're going to be able to move this bill forward because we have uniform support amongst Democrats on Capitol Hill, and notwithstanding Kevin McCarthy's decision to oppose this legislation for no reason other than his continuing to bend the knee to Donald Trump and to the big lie. Thirty-five Republicans in the House supported this bipartisan commission to find the truth with respect to what happened on January 6th, why it happened, and how do we prevent a violent insurrection from ever happening again.

And because Mitch McConnell can no longer serve as the obstructionist- in-chief in terms of bills that make it to the floor, I think that we have the votes eventually to be able to break the filibuster in the Senate, pass the January 6th Commission and then set in motion this necessary exploration on behalf of the American people.

ACOSTA: So you think it might not be dead just yet?

JEFFRIES: I don't think it's dead just yet. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor America had a bipartisan commission. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks America had a bipartisan commission. In the aftermath of this attack on the Capitol, on the Congress, and on the Constitution, that also was an intelligence failure similar to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, America should of course have a bipartisan commission.

[16:25:06]

And I think that we can find 10 senators on the other side of the aisle who will agree with the Democratic majority that this is the right thing to do for America.

ACOSTA: OK. I guess we're going to have to watch and see if that happens.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thanks so much for your time. Great to see you as always. Looking forward to having you back again real soon. We appreciate it.

JEFFRIES: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Coming up, a conspiracy driven audit in Arizona has just resumed. This is Maricopa County, there it is, where ballots are being inspected for bamboo fibers among other silly things. No lie. The reason this is happening next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:30:10]

ACOSTA: And you were looking at live pictures of the conspiracy driven election audit, if you want to call it that, that's just resumed in Maricopa County, Arizona. I use the term audit incredibly, incredibly loosely. That's because this effort is backed solely by Republicans who have hired a company called Cyber Ninjas to oversee this. Some of the Ninja like moves being displayed right there as they're counting the ballots.

Auditors say they're checking for bamboo fibres and watermarks. It's all part of these weird, baseless conspiracy theories, national expert on post-election audits, who observed some of this process as quote, this is not an audit, and I don't see how this can have a good outcome.

And joining me now is Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He also sits on the judiciary committee. Senator when you're -- when we're looking at these pictures of what's taking place in Arizona. Are you worried about how this crazy conspiracy driven audit in Arizona could fuel the big lie? What if these cyber ninjas come out and say, Aha, we found the bamboo fibres? Is anybody going to believe it?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): I would hope they wouldn't. I mean, this is I wish everybody who they want to talk to take a moment and read George Orwell first. I mean, this is Orwellian. It's practically stupidity. It's hiring this group up there. And they're not keeping the ballots secure.

I come to the state of Vermont, where we have Republicans or Democrats in charge. Everybody knows our polling saunas. The town clerks large percentage of them are Republicans, they would no more allow a vote. A wrong vote or illegal vote to come in.

And I suspect this particular point in Arizona, I think about this update. Oh, I found a bamboo in this. Well, I asked her was that in your pocket when you walked in the room? Because it is such a lonely.

ACOSTA: And I also want to ask you about this bipartisan commission into the Capitol insurrection, Democrats, as you know, they need 10 Republicans to vote with them in order for the Commission to go forward. They're in the Senate. It sounds as though the chances may be next to zero. This is how Senator Roy Blunt on the Republican side, described it earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): Well, I think it's too early to create a commission and I believe Republicans in the Senate will decide that it's too early to create that commission.

The one commission that we generally think did work was the 9/11 Commission, Chris, like that was -- I was part of putting that commission together. I think it was 14 months after 9/11, after all kinds of other information was out there for that commission to look at before that commission got started. And believe me, it would be months before this commission could get started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: What do you think about that, Senator Leahy?

LEAHY: That kind of begs the issue of the fact is we can do something like the 9/11 Commission. If it takes a while to get some of the information before they meet, fine. But the fact is, we should have it, have Republicans and Democrats on it. The Republican and Democratic chairs and ranking member in the House they came together on this.

Donald Trump worried about it. So immediately, Leader McCarthy in the House and Leader McConnell in the Senate came when running and duck for cover. Well, I remind them the whole lot of people duck for cover on January 6, and feared for their lives, Republicans and Democrats alike, as this mob surged to the through the Capitol, making the United States look foolish in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Now we have to set up find out who was involved. How are they involved? Why did this happen? Where are mistakes made? Where are the incentives, and give the American people a good, nonpartisan resolution. We did that 9/11, but we also voted to have the 9/11 Commission a well before they could sit down and decide meeting.

Right now what they're saying is, Oh, we don't care when they start meeting. We don't want to have it. We don't care what they might find. We don't want to have it as kind of like, duck your hand under your desk, plug your ears and pretend not a darn thing ever happened. That to my mind is irresponsible.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you, Senator, I want to get your reaction to a very disturbing development in Belarus.

[16:35:04] Perhaps you've seen something about this just broke earlier today, the authoritarian government there appears to have faked a bomb scare to force down a Ryanair flight in order to capture an opposition leader and journalists. We're showing some of the pictures right now that that airliner. How should the U.S. respond to this? And what's happening in Belarus? They are just crushing the opposition there, it seems.

LEAHY: I think showing a dictatorship that would make Joseph Stalin happy, but they're doing it with today's technology. No country in the world should be able to condone another country forcing down on a commercial airline so they could arrest somebody. It has never been done before. It should not be allowed. This should be so roundly condemned in anybody who has supported Belarus in the past with aid reading how to immediately turn off the spirit (ph).

ACOSTA: All right, Senator Patrick Leahy, we'll see if that follows all of this. Thanks for your time this afternoon. We appreciate it. Look forward to talking to you again.

LEAHY: Good. Good to be with you, Jim, keep following this hip on this issue. We need to have that investigation.

ACOSTA: And we will. We will do that. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

LEAHY: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. And for 22 years, he said he was innocent. And now DNA evidence on the murder weapon is pointing to someone else. But here's the problem. Ledell Lee was executed four years ago. We're on that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:47]

ACOSTA: Some horrifying news out of Italy 14 people including a child were killed when the cable car they were riding and plunged to the ground. This happened in northern Italy near the Swiss border. The helicopters have been out there in the area lifting out the victims. It's believed 15 people were in that cable car. Young child taken to a hospital from the scene is in critical condition. We'll keep you posted on that. Just horrifying to look at there.

And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of flood in erupting volcano. The death toll there now reaching 11. This is an aerial view of the lava flow.

Look at that video. They're just extraordinary. At least four of the victims were prisoners who died while trying to escape from a local jail. Five people died in a car accident while trying to evacuate. The volcano's last major eruption was nearly 20 years ago and killed 250 people, just stunning images there.

And four years ago, switching gears the state of Arkansas executed a man for murder. Now some newly uncovered evidence is throwing doubt on whether the right man was convicted and put to death. Our Martin Savidge now with that story.

(BEGIN VIDOE TAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the night of April 20, 2017, Ledell Lee stepped into the death chamber of the Commons Unit in Lincoln County, Arkansas. He was strapped to a gurney. He said nothing. His final words heard earlier in an interview with the BBC.

LEDELL LEE, EXECUTED IN ARKANSAS: But my die in words will always be, as it has been, I am an innocent man.

SAVIDGE: Lee's spent 22 years on Arkansas's death row, never changing his story.

LEE SHORT, ATTORNEY: To maintain innocence for over 20 years. I mean, that's something that I'm not familiar with.

SAVIDGE: So he never confessed to you that he had committed the murder?

SHORT: Not once, not even hinted at it.

SAVIDGE: Now, four years after his execution, new DNA testing has raised serious questions about his case. Lee's attorney got a call explaining the findings. And what do you think?

SHORT: I think if those results had been had before he was executed, he'd still be alive.

SAVIDGE: Lee was sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of 26 years old Deborah Reese found strangled and clubbed to death in her home outside Little Rock. Prosecutors in the case relied on eyewitnesses who testified seeing Lee enter and leave Reese's house the day of the crime.

(on camera): Even after the execution, Lee's family continued to investigate with the help of the ACLU and the Innocence Project. Recently, they were able to gain access to some crucial evidence, including the murder weapon. And they did something that had never been done before. Tested for DNA.

(voice-over): What they found confirmed their fears. There was DNA, but it belonged to someone else. And as yet unidentified man.

In a statement, Lee sister simply said, we're glad there's new evidence in the national DNA database and remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future. We asked for privacy for our family in this difficult time.

Lee's family the Innocence Project and the ACLU turned down our interview requests citing their ongoing investigation.

Why didn't Lee's attorney four years ago get DNA testing to try to stop his client's execution? Did you ask for DNA testing?

SHORT: We did. We asked for DNA testing and with the assistance of the Innocence Project. And it was denied.

SAVIDGE: Judge Herbert Wright was among those who denied the testing request, saying witnesses and other evidence tied lead to the murder. So in his mind, DNA or the lack of it wasn't likely to make any difference.

HERBER WRIGHT, CIRCUIT JUDGE, 6TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT, ARKANSAS: The judicial standard of review that we look at is whether or not it was likely to and my decision was that it wasn't likely to change the verdict.

SAVIDGE: You knew by saying that that? You were pretty much saying the execution can go forward?

WRIGHT: I'd do that.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Why not allow testing of something as critical as DNA? Lee's attorney says because that would have taken more time and time is something the state of Arkansas was quickly running out of.

(voice-over): The drug Arkansas used for lethal injection was to expire 10 days after Lee's scheduled execution date.

[16:45:05]

The state openly used that back as one of their arguments against delay. Death Penalty critics were outraged.

SHORT: It seems problematic to you, to me. The international community certainly had an outcry. Arkansas politicians didn't care.

SAVIDGE: And it appears they still don't. Arkansas's governor defended Lee's execution despite the new DNA discovery.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: The evidence, obviously, that was uncovered is inconclusive. And the fact is that the jury found him guilty based on the information that they had.

SAVIDGE: Arkansas State Attorney General who's now running for governor has no regrets.

Why wasn't there DNA testing done before his execution?

LESLIE RUTLEDGE, ARKANSAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Again, the jury heard the evidence --

SAVIDGE: That's what not I'm talking about.

RUTLEDGE: I understand.

SAVIDGE: In the appellate process after that, why (INAUDIBLE) turn down? Why couldn't the DNA be done?

RUTLEDGE: Well, the courts determined that there was no reason to hear that evidence, and that he was not making a proper petition.

SAVIDGE: I asked Judge Wright if he had second thoughts after hearing about the new DNA test results.

WRIGHT: One of my worst fears is missing that piece of evidence that goes the other way. But in this case, based on what was in front of me, I feel like I made the right decision. I don't necessarily like the decision, but it was the legally correct decision to make.

SAVIDGE: Is that justice for Deborah Reese?

RUTLEDGE: The wrong person was not put to death. The right person was put to death. Ledell Lee murdered Deborah Reese.

SAVIDGE: You're 100 percent certain that the right person was put to death that Deborah Lee --

RUTLEDGE: I absolutely stand by the lawful conviction of the jury and the decisions of the courts.

SAVIDGE: Lee's defense attorney also thinks about Deborah Reese's family and all they've been through, but --

SHORT: I don't think anyone wants someone, the wrong person to be killed in your name.

SAVIDGE: That's not justice.

SHORT: That's not justice at all. And it's a shame that they were told that it would be.

SAVIDGE: Martin Savidge, CNN, Little Rock, Arkansas.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ACOSTA: Coming up, it was once the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis right here in the US. But tonight 15,000 fans will watch playoff basketball from inside Madison Square Garden, the largest indoor gathering in New York since the pandemic began. Plus, actress Sharon Stone joins me live next hour on her new book and the very personal stories about how she was misled on the set of basic instinct. That's coming up.

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[16:52:15]

ACOSTA: In just over two hours, the New York Knicks will take the floor at Madison Square Garden and they'll be playing to an almost full house if you can believe that. 15,000 fans are expected to be there for the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The biggest indoor gathering in New York since the pandemic began. Carolyn Manno is outside the garden for us.

Carolyn, it's hard to believe it. The owner of the Knicks says the team is leading the way showing everyone New York is back. A huge crowd expected what's being done though, to keep people safe.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim, that's right. Well, team owner James Dolan says that nearly 90 percent of the fans who are going to be here in just a short time are going to be fully vaccinated. And in speaking with fans outside of the garden, who already excited about a resumption of normalcy.

They say that the majority of ticket sales available for purchase were for vaccinated people but the stadium that the arena is going to be split up between vaccinated fans and non-vaccinated fans, you have to show two things you either have to show proof that you've been vaccinated, or you have to show that you've had a negative antigen or PCR test in the last 72 hours.

But you're right, this came together pretty quickly when you consider that the 22 final games of the regular season were capped at just under 2,000 fans. And now you're looking at more than seven times that tonight at Madison Square Garden.

But Jim, you know, sports has really given us clues about how we're functioning as a society and the way that we're feeling and when you speak to people outside of Madison Square Garden, they're just -- they're excited about it. And oh, by the way, the Knicks are pretty good, too. They're the four seed in the East that never hurts especially for long suffering Knicks fans who want to see a playoff win tonight.

ACOSTA: Yes, Knicks fans have been waiting a long time for a good team like this. They're pretty competitive. I'm a little bummed my Wizards have came up a little short against the Sixers earlier this afternoon, but the playoffs have just begun. Fans are excited. We're excited. Carolyn Manno, thanks so much for that report. We appreciate it. See you soon.

After a decade behind bars this week, CNN Hero Hector Guadalupe built a successful career as a personal trainer. Now he's helping other formerly incarcerated men and women follow his path to reshape their lives.

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HECTOR GUADALUPE, PERSONAL TRAINER: After surviving prison, you come home thinking you're able to start over. You want to be part of the society. But there's just so many layers of discrimination boxes. You have to get through just to get an opportunity.

Society thinks Oh, you should just go get a job and it's not that easy. Once you have a record, nothing is set up for them to win.

And up, one, right back under.

At a second you foundation we get formerly incarcerated men and women national certifications in job placements in boutique, gyms and corporate health clubs throughout New York City.

[16:55:00]

You got to be thinking outside the box. You can't give someone a mop and say this is your future, take minimum wage and deal with it. When you provide people with livable wages, they're able to be productive members of society. And that's why we are a second you. We want to give you a second chance at life.

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ACOSTA: Get the whole story about Hector's program at CNNheroes.com.

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