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Big Help for Homeowners; Will the Pardons Stand?; Syria's People Bombarded; L.A.'s Miramonte School Reopens Today; Catholic Students Speak Out

Aired February 9, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.


We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started here.

Big deal, I mean it. This is a big deal a $25 billion mortgage deal. If you are underwater on your home and that means you owe more than your home is worth, you could be in for some relief. You could be one of many homeowners to benefit, but there's a catch.

SAMBOLIN: You know, we talked about this yesterday, but there are more details today. In a high-stakes pardon showdown, could we learn today if most of those prisoners released in Mississippi will have to go back to prison? Among those, four convicted murderers.

BANFIELD: And classes are resuming at that L.A. school where the entire staff was fired after two teachers were arrested on child abuse cases. Those staff members will be questioned and possibly relocated. Investigators, though, at this point, have made yet another disgusting discovery.

SAMBOLIN: They weren't fired, they were reassigned temporarily.

BANFIELD: I should say not fired, but cleared out.

SAMBOLIN: The shelling and bombing by Syrian forces is unrelenting. Families are afraid to escape their homes. We're live with the international community's response. I got to tell you, these are some of the most disturbing images our network has ever seen.

BANFIELD: We're going to do that story. But, first, we are going to begin with what is very welcomed news for almost 1 million people who own homes in this country. If you owe more money than your house is worth, we talked about it all the time, you are under water. But there could be finally, finally, some relief coming your way.

SAMBOLIN: So, all of this comes as two very large states, New York and California, are signing into the deal. So, let's run the numbers for you. We're talking about a $25 billion pot of money. It's part of a settlement between the government and some of the country's largest mortgage lenders and servicers.

What that means to you? You could be getting up $20,000 relief on the principal that you owe.

Christine Romans is here to explain the details to us.

You know, you told us about this yesterday.


SAMBOLIN: Now, you have more details.

ROMANS: Right. And they are still negotiating. We're told they were still negotiating also a night. So, the details are so forthcoming.

But this is what we know now. We know that more states are onboard. We know it looks like it's going to be a much bigger settlement. It could be worth up to $30 billion, and what we also know here is that this is, it's meant to help 1 million underwater homeowners, people who owe more on their house than the house is even worth.

California, New York, Florida said to be on board. These are non-Fannie and Freddie loans. Here are the banks who would be ponying up here. It's the biggest names, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial.

Now, the big papers this morning are also reporting that not only would there be relief for those million, they hope million homeowners who are underwater to the tune of $20,000 in principle write-downs, there could be some cash payments to borrowers who were in foreclosure between September 2008 and December 2011, $1,500 to $2,000 each. Again, still working out details on that.

If you are in the foreclosure process right now, one of the goals here as well is to amp up the accountability of the banks and the servicers, right, to make them accountable for their behavior. How many times have you heard somebody who said, wait, I'm paying my bills, they're telling me I'm late. I had a mortgage modification, they're not recognizing it. I'm trying to refinance, the bank is giving me a hard time. So, making things smoother for people in the foreclosure process.

This is being compared this morning to the 1998 settlement against the tobacco industry for how big it is. And this is, you know, the most important kind of industry settlement of claims against consumers in a very, very long time.

SAMBOLIN: And does this relieve the banks of all responsibility?

ROMANS: Some, but not all. And here's the thing -- homeowners would still be able to, you know, pursue a claim against the bank in the future. But states now are limiting some of things in the future that they would be able to do for some of these similar charges.

But one of the problems for the big states is they've got very big, very powerful investigations going on right now, into the shenanigans.

BANFIELD: And criminal stuff.

ROMANS: Right. And the shenanigans from -- just a mess that led to this whole thing. There still is a chance there could be some major accountability from the banks, that was a big sticking point along the way.

These big states don't want to give up their own investigations, they're not going to have to.

BANFIELD: Just real quickly, people need to know that this is about the bad, sloppy paperwork as opposed to I'm underwater because it just got so awful under my community.

ROMANS: This is about robo-signing, remember where -- where some of these banks were just -- I mean, they were signing so many foreclosure documents per second, it's physically impossible to have actually reviewed them.


ROMANS: That's what's part of this problem. Yes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Christine Romans, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.


SAMBOLIN: The Mississippi Supreme Court could decide in a couple hours from now that most of those 200-plus pardons are invalid. We're talking about those Haley Barbour last-minute pardons that happened. The controversy started when he released those criminals.

BANFIELD: There were so many and among them, some real, serious hardened killers. Four convicted killers, but all of this could be decided today, and all could be reversed or not.

Martin Savidge, our correspondent, joins us live now from Jackson, Mississippi.

So, here's my question, Martin -- is this going to be basically a decision just over how powerful a Georgia governor can really be?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right. That's what it boils down to.

In the state of Mississippi, they are trying to determine here how far did the powers of the governor of this state go? And, of course, very serious, which is why it is in the state supreme court so quickly.

And it all comes down to the clemency that was granted by Governor Haley Barbour in those last-remaining hours when he was governor here. And he granted over 200 pardons.

That outraged the public on two fronts. Number one, just the sheer number. But then there were those murderers. There were four of them that worked in the governor's mansion, and they were all pardoned.

Now, murder is a terrible crime regardless, but their particular murders were particularly heinous. And that's why people got so outraged.

The argument inside the court today is going to be on just what you stated there -- does the governor have absolute power to grant a pardon? Or as the state attorney general is trying to point out here, there is a certain -- well, a certain thing you have to follow, which is that you must publish for 30 days that you're going to be let out of prison.

This is a requirement that is put on the convict themselves, and to take out a classified ad in the paper, in the county where they were convicted of their crime. It must run for 30 days consecutively. What they have found is that most of those who were pardoned didn't do that.

The murderers, by the way, did it 28 days, but the attorney says 28 is not 30. And that's what the constitution of the state says. So, that's the basic arguments.

BANFIELD: So, what's -- I misspoke when I said Mississippi. Of course, when I said Georgia, of course, it's Mississippi. And the Mississippi governor at the time, Haley Barbour, has been so widely criticized for this.

But I just read that he filed an amicus brief in this, so he's doubling down. He's not backing down, suggesting he didn't do the right thing. He's doubling down and saying absolutely I had this right.

SAVIDGE: Right. He has not backed off at all. In fact, he said that, you know, this is a state that believes in the Christian idea of a second chance, and he also believes that these men, whom he says he got to know, of course, in the governor's mansion are changed men. And as a result of that, in his heart, he knows that they can come out and have this opportunity to once again be contributing to society.

There are others who say, well, wait a minute, he was too close to these men to really make a kind of honest assessment. But that's just part of the argument being heard in court.

BANFIELD: All right. Marty, thanks. It just stands to reason. They are so serious about this. It's not been tried (INAUDIBLE). It's hopscotched all the way up to supreme court in that state.

Thanks very much, Marty, for that.

Also, I want to turn to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. It is getting worse by the moment, it seems, as government forces continually bombard and attack their own people there. In the city of Homs where so much of the fighting has been focused, 60 people were reported killed just today, in the fourth day of the massive shelling in that community.

But look at the pictures, they are just simply remarkable. Many of them coming from cell phone cameras in a place where they can barely even charge them because they have to electricity. The U.N. secretary-general calls this, quote, "appalling brutality". An activist describes this grim situation.


ABU ABDO, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via telephone): There is no other choice. We are dying slightly, and we try to save each other at least, I mean, to keep somebody alive. Because, I mean, we believe that we're all going to die here. The city is isolated. It's being under shelling and bombing and everything. And there's nothing to do.

ANDERSON COOPER, "A.C. 360": You really believe you all are going to die?

ABDO: We do.


SAMBOLIN: And Turkey is now reportedly entering the situation, telling "Reuters" it could no longer sit by and watch. The country wants to host new diplomatic talks.

We're going to go live to Istanbul, Turkey, and our Ivan Watson.

Good morning to you, Ivan. I want to read something else that just came across this morning. This is an activist that we've been hearing a lot from. His name is Danny. He says some of the bodies he has seen bore signs of electrocution. Others have been cut to pieces.

And according to Human Right Watch, witnesses say that children are targeted for special abuse, including torture and rape.

What is Turkey hoping to accomplish here in their democratic efforts?


Well, Turkey is calling for some kind of new international initiative, trying to bring countries together from the region to try to resolve this somehow, Zoraida. But in the meantime, the cost of this, in lives, just keeps growing.

I want to direct you to -- we're not allowed into Syria right now or into Homs. But look at this video that some courageous activist is streaming via Bambuser and just take a listen.

This is a skyline of Homs and we hear gunshots and explosions almost every second. We may hear one now. Just take a brief listen. This is a live feed again from Homs, where when we talk on the phone to the people enduring this siege, and this indiscriminate shelling there, we often hear, Zoraida, explosions in the background.

We just talked to a doctor who is working in a makeshift clinic in there. He gave us his name, Ali Hazuri (ph).

In the particular neighborhood that's targeted, he says this morning alone, he has received 40 new bodies and more than 100 wounded people. He says he has very basic supplies, rubbing alcohol, gauze, sutures, no antibiotics whatsoever. He cannot operate on these wounded people who are coming in.

And you hear the desperation in his voice when he said, quote, "Everybody is sitting in their homes and waiting for their turns for a rocket to hit them and for us to find them dead under the rubble" -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Ivan, speak about the humanitarian aid effort there. Is Turkey trying to do anything about that? We do keep hearing those reports that you're talking about, children dying because they don't have medicine, they don't have food. Is there any effort to try to get that into that region?

WATSON: There is no official effort underway right now. I mean, the Syrian government is still the predominant military force and security force in Syria. We do know activists are smuggling themselves, smuggling some weapons, some aid across borders, but there is no official effort underway thus far.

I've talked to activists in the capital Damascus, they said they gotten food together. They want to send it into Homs, but that the city they says is circled by tanks and military, they cannot get in there right now.

And it's not the only city, Zoraida. There's another city, Zabadani, by the Lebanese border, also encircled right now. We have gotten reports after shelling of that opposition stronghold for several days, that the Syrian military moved in over night. We do not know what's happened thus far because the telecommunications have been cut off to that town as well.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ivan Watson, live for us in Turkey -- thank you very much.

BANFIELD: I'm also hearing that it's just difficult to even air drop any supplies into there because of the danger of where you're air dropping it. A, you could kill someone in an airdrop, B, anybody who comes out to get supplies could be killed right away.

SAMBOLIN: Exactly. It's terrible situation.

BANFIELD: Horrifying.

We want to switch gear to give you a look ahead on EARLY START. We alert with you with some stories that will be big stories coming up tonight. Students at Los Angeles Miramonte Elementary School are going to return to their classes today with a whole new staff.

You'll remember two teachers at that school were arrested on child abuse charges, and now, investigators say they have found 200 more photographs of students allegedly taken by one of those teachers.

SAMBOLIN: In the U.K., hacking probe. Heather Mills, you know, the ex-wife of former Beatle Paul McCarthy will answer questions about testimony from former "News of the World" editor Piers Morgan. At a hearing in December, Morgan would not disclose a name of the source who played him a voicemail from McCarthy to Mills.

BANFIELD: And it's a Conservative Political Action Conference time. It's CPAC 2012, folks, and it kicks off this morning in Washington. It's America's largest gathering of conservative leaders, activists. It ends on Saturday with the big one, the straw poll to endorse a Republican candidate.

And for the next few days, our own Soledad O'Brien is going to anchor "STARTING POINT" from the CPAC conference in Washington. That all gets underway at 7:00 Eastern.

Make sure you stick around for that.

SAMBOLIN: It is 13 minutes past the hour. We are going to head over to Rob Marciano, checking the weather for us this morning.

Good morning.


Just when you thought winter was never here, it will be here in a couple days. So, don't worry about that.

BANFIELD: Say it ain't so.

MARCIANO: Yes, it's not too bad, though, and you got a little taste of it yesterday, in some spots. A little pulse of snow, maybe enough to dust the roadways in D.C. or just north and west where we saw a couple inches of snow. It's heading off to Cape Cod and out to sea. So, we're not going to see much of that.

But behind us are a little bit of windy conditions, and colder air, here it is. See this cloud streaks? It's up there in Canada. It's been there all winter long, get a little piece of it as we get towards the weekend.

If you are traveling today, Boston to Detroit will see a little bit of wind, showers in Miami and Seattle, and San Francisco, some low clouds. You look at this weather map, it's pretty quiet.

Just a couple of snow flurries across parts of the midsection. Weak storm there, trying to get together. West Coast looks dry, at least So Cal, and a Pacific storm system coming into the back of Northwest.

Temperatures today about where they should be for this time of year, maybe a few degrees warmer again in New York, 48 degrees, 55 degrees in Atlanta.

But look as we go through time beginning today and in through the next couple of days. That Arctic cold front will make inroads towards the Great Lakes, 40 for the high temperature tomorrow. And then as we get towards Friday, temperatures drop into the teens and 20s and 30s across the western Great Lakes. And then we'll drive this as far south as Dixie where temperatures on Saturday will struggle to get into the 30s in places like Nashville, 37 degrees in New York City, with that will come just a little a bit of snow. No major snowstorm or blizzard in the offing. Just keep the parka handy.

SAMBOLIN: Like he's excited about it. Tosses it to us. Thank you so much, Rob.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Rob Marciano.

And still to come, we've got a bizarre story, a sad, all at the same time. He's the victim of a vicious beating by a gang that was showing anti-gay slurs. He has come forward and is demanding justice. You're going to hear him in his own words.

SAMBOLIN: And new this morning, roles for women in the military may be changing. Why they may be getting jobs closer to the front lines. We'll have so much more on that, and so much more.

You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: That will wake you up. A little Bon Jovi, "Have a Nice Day" this morning. Wake up, Boston, 31 degrees right now, but you're heading out to some sunshine and 45 degrees later on.

SAMBOLIN: It's nice.


SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 19 minutes past the hour, time to check the stories making news this morning.

Up to 1 million homeowners under water in their mortgages could see up to $20,000 in aid very soon here. This after New York and California will join in a settlement with the nation's largest banks.

Mississippi's attorney general is asking the state's high court to throw out 200 pardons this morning, claiming not enough public notice was given to the communities where the pardoned convicts committed their crimes.

And the 911 call center in Pierce County, Washington, is launching an investigation after it took dispatchers eight minutes to send a police car to the home of Josh Powell.

BANFIELD: Government forces in Syria have been hard at work, bombing their own people. Overnight, the city of Homs was absolutely decimated. You can see the pictures as they play out, just remarkable scenes. Another 60 civilians reportedly killed. We can't independently confirm this because we can't get reporters in there.

And now, Turkey is reportedly getting involved and hoping that perhaps they can have some diplomatic conversations with the administration in Syria.

There just could be an expanded role for American women in our military, a combat role. Fourteen thousand new jobs might soon be available to women, including combat support roles like radio operators, medics, tank mechanics. They are still going to be barred, though, from fighting on the front lines.

And in just the 24 hours following Rick Santorum's big three- sweep on Tuesday, his campaign took in nearly $1 million, and most of it coming in online. In fact, the surge was so incredible that it actually took down Santorum's own Web site.

I'm sure he was just fine with that. That's a good way to have your --

SAMBOLIN: So many people could not contribute during that time.

BANFIELD: If they're that thrilled, they'll come back.

SAMBOLIN: They'll come back. You're right.

All right. Twenty-one minutes past the hour here. We're now hearing this morning from the victim in a horrific anti-gay video beating. Before we show you, we want to warn you that this video is very disturbing. If your children are up at this hour, please take them away from the TV.

Brandon White was attacked over the weekend in Atlanta. That attack was videotaped and it was posted online.

BANFIELD: We want to let you know there are a lot of things happening since this beating became public. The mayor of Atlanta has doubled up on a reward to try to find the people responsible. It's now $10,000.

And the FBI is now getting involved as well, the Feds -- all of this because they want to see if maybe there was a hate crime that they could litigate.

Our CNN reporter George Howell is following this story.

Brandon is now speaking out, George, for the first time. But at the very beginning, he didn't even come forward to the police, as I understand it.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And his plan, Ashleigh, was to remain silent. But he's decided to speak out for the first time, held a news conference yesterday. And basically said, look, I could have died after this happened. And you see it in the video. You see these men kicking and punching him, laughing while they do it, making derogatory statements about his sexuality.

Now, Brandon spoke out at this news conference but also spoke to our sister network, HLN, the Jane Velez Mitchell show, to explain the first moments of that attack you see there and to also explain how difficult a decision this was to come forward.

Take a listen.


BRANDON WHITE, VICTIM OF BEATING: Out of nowhere someone just punches me on the side of my head. I'm not expecting this, so I don't really know how to react from there. And it goes on from there for about a good 30 seconds, I would say.

And once I finally get up, they finally run off and I go home. You know, at this point, I'm beyond mad. So, I actually go back, because I wanted to see who they were.

When I first found out that it was uploaded on the Internet and that it was on the news, when I finally seen the clip of it, you know, I was embarrassed. I was very humiliated. And I just didn't want to deal with it. I was actually just going to let it go. I was going to let it go --

JANE VELEZ MITCHELL, HLN: And why did you decide I'm going to the cops? What was that thing inside of you?

WHITE: When I decided to go to the cops is because once they put it out there, they set themselves up.


HOWELL: Police believe it was a neighborhood gang that basically was behind this attack. They believe that one of the men involved uploaded that video online and that's when Brandon says he realized that it was online. His family and friends helped him make that decision to come forward to speak publicly and also talk to police, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So, George, what's fascinating about this, as well is that this may be a 30-second attack, but it could end up leading to a very long future in the state of Georgia. It could pave the wait for a hate crimes law because right now, there isn't one. There's no statute in that state for hate crimes.

HOWELL: There's a lot of talk about that. In fact, he family, friends, definitely want to see the federal government get involved because that will be the only way to see this prosecuted under hate crime laws. But, again, definitely a lot of talk about that given what happened here in Atlanta.

BANFIELD: And also, I hear that the U.S. attorney is also looking into civil rights violations, so there could be a whole heap of trouble here. But they don't have anybody. What's the status in trying to find the guys who did it?

HOWELL: Well, just yesterday, Atlanta's mayor, Kasim Reed, doubled the reward, as you mentioned, from $5,000 to $10,000. Always the concern these men left Atlanta, that these men may have left Georgia. So, certainly, getting the word out is important and getting the information out about this reward again, $10,000 for any information leading to the arrest of these men who clearly recorded themselves and put themselves out there.

BANFIELD: George Howell, thanks very much for that.

Also, I want to remind our viewers that coming up a little later this morning, at 8:00 Eastern, Soledad O'Brien is going to speak live with Brandon White. Again, that's CNN's "STARTING POINT" at 8:00.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Still to come, top stories are up after the break, including the battle over birth control. Students from Catholic universities now speaking out on the controversial health care policy.

Plus, what Rick Santorum needs to say at CPAC to prove he is the conservative alternative to Romney or Gingrich.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Twenty-nine minutes past 5:00 in the East. It's 29 minutes past 2:00 on the West Coast.

And my sister says she's watching. She's up late. So, good night. Go to bed.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning. Stay with us.


BANFIELD: Well, she's not the only one watching. If you're one of the people watching and you're under water on your home, as so many millions of Americans are, we have some good news possibly for you.

Mortgage owners could see up to $20,000 in aid very soon after New York and California jumped on board with a massive settlement with the nation's largest banks. But there is fine print, folks.

Also, Mississippi's attorney general is asking the state's high court to throw out 200 pardons this morning, claiming that not enough public notice was given to the communities where those pardoned criminals committed their crimes.

And students at Los Angeles's Miramonte Elementary School are going to return to classes today, but there's going to be an entirely new staff. This, after two teachers at that school were arrested on child abuse charges.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The founder of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure, Nancy Brinker, now admits she mishandled the situation and that she made some mistakes, and she had vowing to never ever leave women unserved.

Students in catholic universities will speak out this morning about the controversial White House policy that requires certain religious organizations to offer contraceptives as part of their employee healthcare plans. Had a (ph) controversy grew in there.

And the Conservative Political Action Conference gets underway this morning, also know as CPAC. It's in Washington D.C. The conference ends Saturday with a straw poll to endorse a republican candidate.

And at 7:00 eastern today and tomorrow, Soledad O'Brien anchors "STARTING POINT" from that conference.


BANFIELD (on-camera): A friend of mine, Michael Colcages (ph), e-mailed me to say he's at CPAC. He said you can't swing a cat without hitting a blogger.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Everybody is up, right? Up and working.

BANFIELD: Plenty of news coming out of that conference as well. So, listen, here's the headline. He's in the money. I'm not going to sing it. Rick Santorum, though, raking in the money. Over $1 million in just the last 24 hours this after the big sweep on Tuesday night. And now, he's campaigning in Super Tuesday states, and he's making a stop tomorrow at CPAC to try to court the GOP elite, but can he make his success last?

SAMBOLIN: We're going to find out, right? Live from CNN Center in Atlanta, independent political analyst, Goldie Taylor is joining us. From Washington, Ed Espinoza, Democratic political consultant, and also, from Washington, we have Matt Mackowiak, Republican strategist. Thank you for joining us.

We're talking all things Santorum today, you guys. So, we're going to start with Ed here. We just heard that Santorum has headed to CPAC. He's going to be speaking tomorrow. All of the Republican elite will be there, right? And it's not just about votes. He needs some more money. He's on a momentum here. What does he have to say or do to prove that he can be the conservative alternative to Romney instead of Gingrich?

ED ESPINOZA, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: You know, one of the things that people say makes Romney a strong front-runner is that he has the money and he has the organization that go the distance in a long primary. Santorum needs to be able to demonstrate that if he has the money, he too, has the organization to go the distance. He's already demonstrated that he has the ability to win competitive races, but he now needs to do is demonstrate he's got the ability to keep doing it over time.

SAMBOLIN: Now, we know that he raised $1 million in a 24-hour period, but is that enough to keep up with the Romney?

ESPINOZA: No. But, if he can keep doing that every 24-hour period, yes.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Matt, I want you to react to something that Santorum said. Let's listen, and then, we'll talk about it.



RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The intolerance of the left, the intolerance of the secular ideology, it is -- it is a -- it is a religion unto itself, just like we saw from the days of -- of the atheists in the Soviet Union. It is completely intolerant of dissent.


SAMBOLIN: All right. He went on to say that the left wants you to accept their view without questioning, and if you do question, they brand you as bigots and unfit for the public square. Independent votes are key here to the national election. How do you think that voters are going to react to that message?

MATT MACKOWIAK, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, PROTOMAC STRATEGY GROUP: Well, I don't think that's going to be a big part of his message if he is the nominee. It's not something I've heard from him. I've seen him speak in Iowa on the campaign trail and South Carolina. And so, we'll see. Look, part of Santorum's strength is that he has a core message.

It does create excitement. He gives you something to be for. He's not running on inevitability argument like Romney is. But obviously, he's going to have to moderate slightly, I think, if he becomes the nominee to address electability questions. He is someone who did not have a successful last election in Pennsylvania in a very bad year.

But he's also won statewide twice in a purple state like Pennsylvania. So, for Santorum, he's got social conservatives. He's got evangelicals. He now needs to broaden that out. And as Ed was saying, his challenges are financial and organizational. And if you look forward, you have two huge primaries on February 28th, which follows the CNN debate on February 22nd in Arizona.

You then have a number of states on Super Tuesday, and basically, every Tuesday and every Saturday in March has a contest. So, March is a packed month. And, Santorum is going to have to win some big states if he's going to have a chance to really compete with Romney. SAMBOLIN: Goldie, weigh in on this, because we do know that Santorum, one of the things he's popular for is that he is very true to his beliefs. So, do you think what he's saying is necessarily a bad thing?

GOLDIE TAYLOR, INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think for the kinds of reasons that Santorum has the ability or the possibility of winning, what he's saying is a good thing. I mean, he's very good in caucuses, where the most conservative Republicans tend to turn out, and that's where Santorum's sweet spot happens to be.

You know, there is a coalescing, you know, of grassroots conservatives around him. You know, sort of the die-hard true conservatives around him. And I think that's what he has to take forward through both February and into March. You know, does he have a real pathway to the nomination?

It is extraordinary narrow, maybe a bit more broad than maybe Newt Gingrich has, but extraordinarily narrow. I think what happens is that the race gets drawn out a bit more possibly into early April, but Mitt Romney does come away with it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I want you guys to weigh in on one very controversial issue, but I don't have a lot of time. So, you're going to have to follow my rules here. We've seen in the last few weeks the controversy over mandatory contraception coverage. The White House is trying to find some sort of a compromise here.

We're going to hear students weighing in on this as well. So, women would get coverage from an outside plan and religious employers wouldn't have to pay. Answer me in one of these three ways, no expanding on that answer, please. Is it a big issue now? Will it be a big issue in the general election or is it a non-issue? Goldie.

TAYLOR: It's a big issue now.


MACKOWIAK: Big issue now, big issue later, unless, they're able to get a compromise that satisfies all sides.


ESPINOZA: Big issue now, but it's the right issue.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ed, Matt, Goldie, thank you very much for playing this morning. We appreciate it.

So, we've got the best political coverage on television and some big interviews coming up later this morning on "Starting Point." Soledad O'Brien is talking to Senator John McCain. That's happening in the seven o'clock hour. He suggested the United States should consider arming the opposition in Syria.

And then, at eight o'clock, Soledad O'Brien will talk to Congressman Paul Ryan about what he plans to say at the CPAC.

BANFIELD: And still to come, it is one of those stories where you shake your head. Two teenagers, one of them on trial for murder, the other dead, but is the defense of murder, "I was drunk?" You'll find out why alcohol is being featured in the courtroom.

SAMBOLIN: And was safety ignored here? New questions this morning in that deadly stage collapse. Remember that? That was at the Indiana State Fair. Did the stage production company know about safety concern before that collapse? You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Forty minutes past the hour here. A bombshell in the UVA lacrosse murder trial. Accused killer, George Huguely, apparently e-mailed his ex-girlfriend -- is it Yeardley Love or Yeardley? I want to pronounce the name correctly -- Yeardley Love, "I should have killed you."

BANFIELD: So disturbing to hear that.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh!

BANFIELD: An e-mail like that. And he's, of course, now on trial for fatally beating her to death back in May of 2010. Prosecutors say he killed her in a jealous rage after finding that she'd been dating a rival athlete from another college. Prosecutors also say that that volatile relationship was deteriorating, and they point to that e-mail exchange just days before her death.

Let me read it for you. It says, "I should have killed you." That's what he wrote. And she wrote back, "You should have killed me?" He says, "we should talk tonight."

Joining me now is criminal defense attorney, Midwin Charles. You and I have talked about these cases for years and years now. On its face that e-mail sounds damming, but the reality of it is there are so many more layers to this kind of a murder case, aren't there?

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There really are. I mean, you're talking about a case where two people who were involved in a relationship for quite some time, that was incredibly volatile. Not only was he abusive towards her, at least, verbally, so was she.

So, you've got a lot of back and forth here, and I think this is one of those cases where young men and women who are in relationships will kind of say, you know what, volatility in a relationship like this is something that should be checked so that it doesn't escalate to something as gruesome as this.

BANFIELD: OK. Look, in first degree murder, premeditation is always a big, big deal, and a lot of people think premeditation means you planned it for months, you laid in wait, when the truth of the matter is, premeditation can be all of one second.

CHARLES: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, Ashleigh, you raise a very good point. A lot of people think premeditation means you have to sit there and plot and plan for months and days and hours, but it's something that can occur within a split second.

And usually, what prosecutors do in trying to prove murder cases, first degree murder cases, is they look at the actions. They look at what led up to that particular day and the kind of relationship the defendant had with the person.

BANFIELD: And how about just all that physical evidence? Because Yeardley Love's room was a disaster. There were marks in the wall where he allegedly shook her and bashed her head into the wall. Her door was busted up. He had bashed in that door to get in there. There seems to be a lot of telling evidence that this was an extraordinarily violent attack.

CHARLES: It was a violent attack. And I think what the defense is challenged here with is trying to distinguish between is the intent to kill her or is he just a hot head? Is he someone who just -- this is how he normally acts? And I think it's going to be very difficult for the defense to do that, particularly, when you have this glaring e-mail that says, "I should have killed you." And guess what, Ashleigh, within four days of that e-mail --

BANFIELD: She's dead.

CHARLES: Yeardley Love was dead.

BANFIELD: So, Midwin, the defense in its opening statements yesterday suggested he was drunk. And, everyone will often say and I understand that alcohol is no excuse for a crime. However, that drinking plays into the premeditation, especially if the premeditation is supposed to be in those last few seconds. Is there any merit to drinking causing you to not formulate a premeditated intent to kill?

CHARLES: I mean, people have advanced that strategy in defense cases. Sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn't. Unfortunately, in this case, you just have so much damning evidence. I just don't know how successful it's going to be on a jury.

BANFIELD: OK. So, for anybody who's just tearing their hair out there saying, can this guy get away with this? There's always that little thing that comes up to bite a lot of people called, felony murder.

CHARLES: Absolutely. The breaking and entering of an apartment or household to commit a felony therein. And if someone dies during that felony which is the murder, you've got your felony murder. But remember, Ashleigh, they have to prove that he kicked that door. Remember, it's an allegation.

BANFIELD: Oh, yes. I know. It is an allegation.

CHARLES: They do have to lead up to that and prove that he broke in, and when breaking in, he committed this felony.

BANFIELD: And I'll tell you, that evidence will be unbelievably key in this trial. Midwin, you are so smart, and I love having you on. Come and join us again.

CHARLES: All right, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Midwin Charles joining us live.

SAMBOLIN: It is 44 minutes past the hour here. Still ahead, a new twist in the University of North Dakota's controversial fighting Sioux nickname. Find out why they're bringing it back.

BANFIELD: And also, another alleged hazing incident at the University of Florida. Find out what the school is doing about it and why some students say hazing will never stop here. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, Memphis. This is your ultra- famous Beal Street. Thirty-eight degrees now. And if you stay here for awhile, sunny and 47 later.

BANFIELD: Green Day. "21st Century Breakdown." We like to wake you up with songs that have some editorial connection. "21st Century Breakdown," you might just say at the mortgagee crisis. And at 48 minutes pass by, we've got your mortgage story for you. This one, up to a million of you.


BANFIELD (voice-over): You folks who are under water on your mortgages means you owe more than your house is even worth. There could be relief in sight to the tune of about $20,000 for you and very soon. All of it coming after New York and California finally decided to jump on board in massive national settlements with some of the nation's largest banks.

The Mississippi Supreme Court is going to be hard at work possibly deciding in a couple hours that most of those 200 plus pardons that Governor Hayley Barbour signed on his way out of office, including four killers, might just be invalid and back to prison you go.

Also, the labor department in Indiana has handed out $80,000 in fines for this -- remember, last summer's deadly stage collapse at the state fair? The largest fine, $63,000, and it was levied against the Mid-America Sound Corporation. This was the company that built that stage structure and leased it to the state fair.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And a new alleged hazing incident involving the University of Florida has triggered a temporary suspension of the school's Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The incident reportedly took place off campus and is being investigated by university police now.

And the University of North Dakota will temporarily keep using its fighting Sioux nickname and logo over objections of the NCAA. The issue could go to a statewide vote, that's what they're hoping, that could permanently reinstate the controversial nickname. They say let the people decide.

And Gary Busey has filed for bankruptcy in California. The 67- year-old actor reporting assets worth up to $50,000 while owing his creditors between $500,000 and $1 million.


BANFIELD (on-camera): So strange when these actors who seem to be on TV or on the big screen all the time --

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Making a lot of money.

BANFIELD: -- and have such financial crisis. Unfortunate for Mr. Busey.

Still ahead on EARLY START, this is one for the what books? A judge sentencing that guy to buy his wife flowers and take her out for dinner?

SAMBOLIN: Should I not be laughing? Should I not be laughing?

BANFIELD: I'll tell you what, you're going to find out what was behind this extraordinarily strange sentence.


So, here's the latest celebrity to officially join Twitter. Take a look at that picture. It is Marilyn Monroe.

BANFIELD: Tweeting from the grave?

SAMBOLIN: We're going to explain how this all happened. You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Good morning, Jacksonville, Florida. What a beautiful tower cam shot for you at 54 degrees, your fine community. You're going up to only 65 a little later, but nice sunshine.

SAMBOLIN: That was a beautiful shot.

BANFIELD: St. John's River, it's beautiful. I like Jacksonville. I like all of Florida.

SAMBOLIN: So do I. Very nice.

Speaking of Florida, a judge in Broward County, Florida making international headlines this morning after an incredibly unconventional ruling. This was in a domestic assault case. I was laughing earlier. I apologize for that. Listen to this. Here is a judge's ruling, "buy your wife flowers and take her to red lobster."

Joseph Frey (ph) forgets his wife's birthday. The wife claims her husband shoved her against the sofa and put his hands on her neck. The wife says, quote, "Didn't get hit." "Wanted to work things out" is what she says. So, the judge orders Frey to buy his a birthday card and flowers, take his wife out to dinner at Red Lobster, perhaps, and after dinner, the couple has been ordered to go bowling.

BANFIELD: It just -- you know, it defies logic.

SAMBOLIN: That is unbelievable.

BANFIELD: They happen a lot. It is may be strange to hear for the first time, but this kind of thing happens a lot. Judges who, perhaps, don't have the sensitivity to domestic violence have been known to do these kinds of things in the worse case scenario.

SAMBOLIN: I don't know, Ashley --

BANFIELD: One husband was ordered something like this, and he ended up burning his wife after a similar kind of order like this.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh!

BANFIELD: It' is a serious, serious issue. And clearly, that it's getting national attention is critical at this point.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to find the story and I might put it on Facebook for you in case that you want to share that story. That is amazing.

BANFIELD: So, something else that ought our eye that was just sort of floating out there in the inter-webs today. Marilyn Monroe, yes, she's no stranger to anyone, but a Twitter account? She died decades ago. How could she possibly be on Twitter this way? The firm that owns her estate decided to create an @marilynmonroe account. And at last count, she's got about 14,000 followers, but me thinks now that that's making national news.

SAMBOLIN: Do we have some of her tweets? I don't know what she's saying.

BANFIELD: I know, but that would be -- yes. What exactly would they say on her behalf?


BANFIELD: It's kind of weird, isn't it? Wait a minute, --

SAMBOLIN: Everyone deserves a sparkle in their day, and so many more, perhaps.

BANFIELD: Really? What about happy birthday or something more exciting or apropos.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Fifty-six minutes past the hour here. Top stories next on EARLY START. There are new rules on women in combat. We're going to share those with you.

BANFIELD: And also a lawyer says that Jerry Sandusky is no threat to nearby school children, but there are neighbors who say, really? Because the school is so close, he's been seen watching the kids from his home.

SAMBOLIN: And a CNN exclusive, Tyler Clemens' (ph) brother speaks out about Tyler's suicide. He killed himself after his college roommate allegedly used a web cam to spy on him kissing another man.


JAMES CLEMENTI, BROTHER OF TYLER CLEMENTI: He probably had so much hope and optimism for a great experience at college and found himself living through a nightmare.


SAMBOLIN: Gosh, they look so much alike, don't they?


SAMBOLIN: That and much more coming up next. You're watching EARLY START.