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Soldier's Deadly Rampage in Afghanistan; Louisiana Flooding; NYT Poll: Obama Approval Rating Plunging; CitiGroup CEP Paid $14.8 Million In 2011

Aired March 13, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning 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.

Here are your top stories.

BANFIELD: Mitt Romney hoping to pull off a Southern sweep, winning primaries in Mississippi and Alabama if he can today. He says the party faces doom, though, if a nominee is not picked soon.

SAMBOLIN: The military releasing new information on the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians inside their homes. We are learning this morning he suffered a head injury in Iraq but was found fit for duty. We're live at the Pentagon.

BANFIELD: A disturbingly familiar sight in Louisiana. Take a look at your screen. Hundreds of people are having to be rescued as torrential rains have put communities under water there. As much as 18 to 20 inches of rain falling in some parts of southern Louisiana. We've got a live report coming up in a moment.

SAMBOLIN: Police deciding not to charge the man for shooting an unarmed Florida teen. Here's his picture right here.

The neighborhood watch captain says he shot the boy in self defense. The family of the dead teenager is outraged. We're going to break down why there are no charges in this racially charged case.

But, up first here, concern that U.S.-Afghan relations have hit a new low after a deadly shooting rampage. Hundreds of Afghan students demonstrating overnight. This is in response to the cold- blooded killing of 16 Afghan civilians, most children, allegedly by a U.S. soldier.

U.S. officials say the Army soldier suspected of the killings suffered traumatic brain injury while in Iraq. This was two years ago. It's not clear, however, if that played any role in the attack. The soldier is in custody but is refusing to speak with investigators.

This, of course, is the second major setback in Afghanistan following the Koran burning which triggered a lot of protests in that area. President Obama says the massacre is tragic and heartbreaking but it will not change the mission in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says it is a tragic reality.


LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They are terrible events, and this is not the first of those events and it probably won't be the last.


SAMBOLIN: Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us.

Leon Panetta also says this soldier could face the death penalty. The Afghan people want the soldier tried on their solid. In light of these new developments that he potentially had this traumatic brain injury -- is it possible that this soldier could face the death penalty?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, the military has the death penalty. It will certainly be a matter for the court to decide. It will first be a matter for prosecutors to decide whether they want to charge him with that.

Let me circle back with some of the latest developments this morning. We are now able to confirm, our Sara Sidner in Kabul, that the very village where this happened, some Afghan provincial officials have come under fire there this morning, under attack from insurgents. They were there trying to visit the families, trying to offer some assistance.

This soldier that stands accused of this, we are told, suffered traumatic brain injury two years ago when he was in a vehicle rollover accident. This was not combat. It was simply a vehicle accident in Iraq. He was treated for TBI. He was found fit for duty at that time.

But certainly the military is scouring his medical records, his psychological evaluations, to see if they can get any clues about what happened, how this may have come to pass.

This is all part of the standard investigation that is going on right now. It is expected in the next several days. It will lead to charges. And at that point this military justice process will go into full swing, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And I imagine also at the White House there's concern about retaliation. I'm reading here that the Taliban has vowed revenge against sick-minded American savages because of the mass killing.

STARR: The Taliban have put out a statement that -- I believe it goes on to say that they are also threatening beheading of all Americans in Afghanistan.

You know, look, the U.S. military takes precautions, U.S. civilians working both for private organizations, the State Department, also in Afghanistan certainly take precautions at all times. I think you can probably expect to see everyone at a heightened state of alert in the coming days.

SAMBOLIN: And if I can ask you one final question here. It's a military base that this soldier comes from, it's a joint base, Lewis- McChord, near Tacoma, Washington. And I was reading this morning a laundry list of really horrific crimes that some of the soldiers from that base are accused of.

Was this on any potential watch list from the White House?

STARR: You mean the base itself?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, yes. So many crimes committed by so many soldiers coming from there, including that killing team in Iraq. It comes from that particular base as well.

So, were they watching --

STARR: I'm not aware --

SAMBOLIN: I guess I'm asking: were they watching that base because of all of these horrific crimes coming from there?

STARR: I'm not aware of any White House watch list of U.S. military bases. There were a number of incidents at Lewis-McChord over the years.

All indications are that the unit this man belonged to was not tied to any of those, that those were other units.

And I think that it is accurate and fair to say, Lewis-McChord has absolutely had its share of problems and issues, as many other military bases have. The military is a very large organization, not to excuse any of it.

I find it a bit interesting that Secretary Panetta said these things will happen. I think that comment from him is going to get a lot of notice. Things do happen in war, but this type of atrocity is something that certainly is fundamentally out of the norm.

And I think if you look at the cases that have happened in the past, the military prosecutes them with varying rates of success, mind you, people have been acquitted from these alleged crimes. But it will remain to be seen, I think, how this one plays out.

SAMBOLIN: And as we learn more about this particular soldier as well.

Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon for us -- thank you.

BANFIELD: Six minutes now past 5:00.

Torrential downpours in southern Louisiana triggering record floods there. More than 20 inches of rain have been falling in some areas.

Take a look at that and take a look at that. Boating along places they wouldn't have before. Hundreds of people trapped by flash floods, having to be rescued.

Joining us now on the phone, Lieutenant Chad Canezaro with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff Office.

Can you hear me, Lieutenant?

LT. CHAD CANEZARO, LAFEYETTE PARISH SHERIFF OFFICE (via telephone): Yes, Ashleigh. I can hear you.

BANFIELD: So, this sort of came out of the blue. I wasn't aware that this was the kind of season that you'd be seeing these kinds of floods. But how bad is it?

CANEZARO: Yes, it was unexpected. We had a 30 percent chance of rain yesterday, and we got a little more than that. But it's more than we bargained for.

BANFIELD: So, apart from the number of people that you've had to rescue, I read that there was a school bus with 16 middle school kids. How did that go? Did they all get out?

CANEZARO: Yes, ma'am. They all got out safely. They were in four feet of water. We had to utilize our boats, conventional boats with motors, but we got them all out safely.

BANFIELD: So, look, we've been saying up to 18 inches. But in some places, 20 inches of rain. On a scale of one to 10, where does that fall within what you're able to deal with and kinds of services you have available in that community?

CANEZARO: Well, that was pretty much stretching us to our limit. But the Lafayette Parish Sheriff Office and the city of Carencro, we all pulled together. We even had some local citizens that volunteered with their boats and came help do some rescues.

BANFIELD: Is everyone accounted for?

CANEZARO: Yes, ma'am. Everyone is accounted for.

BANFIELD: And so, now, the pictures on the screen show the next part of the story, which is just dealing with all of the aftermath, the houses, the cars under water, the damage. It's not like you haven't been through this before.

CANEZARO: Right. We're waiting on day break so we can take account of all the damage and we'll start repairing from there.

BANFIELD: Lieutenant Canezaro, good luck. And we're thinking of you. That's never a good thing to have to go through. But thank God everybody's safe.

I hate seeing those pictures. Absolutely hate it. And, hopefully, there's good news ahead.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano is live in the CNN weather center at eight minutes past 5:00 in the East Coast.

What does it look like for them today, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Drier. And, you know, they just had one thunderstorm that sat over them for six hours there and to dump all that rain on them. Still, flood warnings in effect of Louisiana, especially south Louisiana, very, very flat. Waters are typically slow to drain.

So, even when you get a flash flood situation, most parts of the country, it comes, it goes and it's gone. We still have a lot of water that needs to be drained out of this system, along the I-10 and I-49 corridor there of Acadiana.

Again, 12 to 18 inches of some Doppler estimates, potentially in some spots, they could have seen 20 inches. It's incredible stuff.

Not nearly that amount of rain across parts of the I-95 corridor. It's soupy out there. Humidity high and temperatures, well, record-breaking in some cases -- 73 degrees. I hate to tell you this if you live up, it was 73 in Newark, and Central Park was 71 -- that was a record -- Albany 69, 68 degrees in Syracuse and Bridgeport seeing 65 degrees.

You'll see near record-breaking temperatures again today the eastern half of the country. Meanwhile, the western half seeing temperatures below average. We've got winter storm warnings as far west as the Oregon coastline. So, all the way down to the beach. That's unusual even the middle of January, let alone the middle of March.

So, we've got a bit of a topsy-turvy atmosphere happening. And that will probably stick. The eastern half will remain warm, and the western half on the chilly side.

Temperatures today: 77 in D.C., 71 degrees, and a little bit of rain this morning. So, that is toasty. In some cases, 30 degrees. How about that? Guys, enjoy.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Rob, thank you very much.

BANFIELD: And every morning, around this time, 10 past five one the East Coast, we like to give you on EARLY START to your day, tell you what's going to be big news coming up tonight.

Attorney General Eric Holder speaking at the Supreme Court today. Speech coming a week after he said the government does have the right to target and kill American citizens who posed a terror threat.

SAMBOLIN: The NCAA tournament begins tonight in Dayton, Ohio. Iona versus Brigham Young, and Western Kentucky versus Mississippi Valley State. The winner of that game going on to play the top seed in the tournament -- Kentucky.

BANFIELD: And in just a few hours, we're going to be see if you've been spending a little more these days. Car sales are expected to drive the best retail growth in five months when the numbers come out today at 8:30 Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: And this just in: gas prices up to $3.81 a gallon. The national average ticked up another four-tenths of a cent. High gas prices are here to say. Analysts say we can expect to see $4 to $5 gas through summer.


SAMBOLIN: It's a repeat, a repeat, a repeat.

BANFIELD: If we're talking up, let's talk markets, shall we? Maybe this is better news for you. The U.S. stock markets closed mixed yesterday. The Dow gained about 37 points to kick off the week. The tech heavy NASDAQ down a wee bit, but the S&P 500 -- which is the best indicator for the stocks in your 401(k) -- closing mostly flat. Even though there's an uptick in the arrow.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There was nothing going on there. I mean, "The Wall Street Journal" called it listless trading yesterday. I mean, it was a gain but it was just -- there's not much going on. People are nervous.

BANFIELD: I'll take that over a loss, though.

ROMANS: Yes, true. But people are nervous right here. There was not a lot of buying. People are wondering what the next move is going to be.

SAMBOLIN: You're talking this morning about income inequality.

ROMANS: Look, this has been the headline for, what, a year now. And in the 99, you know, versus the 1 percent, and the whole idea of Occupy Wall Street and wait a minute, what's happening in America?

Income inequality has been rising since 1967, up 18 percent according to the Census Bureau from 1967. That means the haves have more and the have-nots have less, right? That's such a political conversation.

Guess what? When they head to the polls today in Alabama and Mississippi, these are among some of the income inequal places in America. I want to show you a snapshot of income inequality in America. The darker the blue, the more unequal the income.

This is a snapshot from the Census Bureau.

BANFIELD: Look at the South.

ROMANS: Yes. And, you know, look, they parts of Manhattan, by the way, that are big urban areas that are also very unequal. But the most -- six of 10 counties with the highest income disparity are in the southern states -- Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi.

And some of these places are places that are pretty reliably red. You know, they go for the Republican candidate. So this conversation over the past year of income inequality is not something that seems to be resonating as much in some of these spots.

A couple of other things in Mississippi and Alabama. In Mississippi, the unemployment rate is 10.4 percent, that is much higher than the national average. In Alabama, it's 8 percent.

And in fact, Alabama is back now to where it was. It had a spike, but things have been improving in terms of unemployment, the unemployment rate in Alabama.

Also on education, these are very important things for parents and for voters in both of these states. According to "U.S. News & World Report," Mississippi is number 45 out of 50 of best high schools.



ROMANS: Yes. So, it's not -- 45 is not a good number.


ROMANS: And 27 out of 50 is Alabama, a better performance there.

But see, you talk about income inequality, you talk about -- you just talked about gas prices, you know, what will be driving voter as they head to the Republican primaries today.

BANFIELD: You know what's weird about that? Mitt Romney is polling very well. I mean, surprisingly well in places where voters typically of this ilk are not interested in a Mitt Romney.

ROMANS: It's interesting.

BANFIELD: Doesn't it? I think it's strange.

ROMANS: I think that he is -- when you look, well, look, this race has been so -- so interesting, right? He seems to be solidifying his lead, of course. But it has been a lot of people looking for something else, looking for something else. He's settling into that front-runner.

BANFIELD: I want to pull some of those stats and ask the political panel about it.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely.

BANFIELD: Why is he polling well with people who would typically be very, very conservative?


BANFIELD: All right. Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's still ahead, it turned a neighborhood into a fireball. Do you remember this? Now, the utility company paying the city of San Bruno, California, for a deadly pipeline explosion.

BANFIELD: The former secretary general who went to Syria left Syria, and this is what he left behind: another massacre. And this one, mostly women and children. So, did he do anything there at all?

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: It is 17 minutes past the hour.

Good morning to you, Washington. It is a nice 58 degrees now. And later, 71. Kind of balmy there. Nice weather.

It is time to check the stories making news this morning. Here is Ms. Christine Romans.

Good morning to you again.

ROMANS: It is primary day in two big states, folks. Let's start there. Polls open in less than three hours. Primaries in Mississippi and Alabama with a combined 84 delegates today. American Samoa and Hawaii are holding caucuses tonight. Mitt Romney says the Republican Party is doomed if it doesn't choose a nominee before the convention.

We're learning more this morning about the Army staff sergeant suspected in the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children. Military officials say the unidentified soldier suffered a traumatic brain injury in a vehicle rollover while he served in Iraq back in 2010.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company will pay the city of San Bruno, California, $70 million as compensation for the 2010 gas pipeline explosion. The explosion blew open a crater 72 feet long, 26 feet wide, killing eight people and destroying dozens of homes there.

And we could learn as early as today who the winner is in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. The Arizona Cardinals and the Denver Broncos are thought to have the inside track on Peyton Manning. But there are reports Manning may still meet with the Miami Dolphins and the Tennessee Titans in the next few days.

Zoraida is screaming, New York, New York, New York.

SAMBOLIN: I'm screaming New York.

BANFIELD: I know nothing about football. I just like that guy. It would be nice to see him walking around here.

ROMANS: My advice is take it easy, weigh all the offers and do what makes you happiest.

SAMBOLIN: And stay healthy. That's an important one. Stay healthy.

BANFIELD: What do you think his 401(k) is like?

ROMANS: It doesn't matter what his 401(k). It's the whole bank account, period.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Nineteen minutes past the hour. We're getting an early read on your local news that is making national headlines this morning. We have papers from San Francisco and New York City.

We're going to start with the "San Francisco Chronicle."

Do you remember this movie? I love this movie. The '90 classic "Home Alone." That movie that set off Macaulay Culkin's career. Where is he now?

Well, we'll stick to the house here. The house from that film has been sold for over $1.5 million after sitting on market for nearly a year. It was first listed last May for $2.4 million. In the summer (INAUDIBLE).

The house is not in Hollywood, obviously. And it's on a half acre lot. Three stories, 4,250 square feet, four bedrooms. Nice size.

BANFIELD: Wonder what the staircase is like. You would think there are nicks all the way down, right?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I say a suburb outside of Chicago.

BANFIELD: That was hilarious.

SAMBOLIN: I wasn't paying attention because somebody was in my ear.

BANFIELD: That's right. "Wall Street Journal," folks, this is a great story. I'll tell you what? I'm going to tell you about "The Wall Street Journal." But I'll show you "The Daily News." this woman on the front here -- let me get you a better shot of her. That's the madam lady who is plaguing our papers. The madam who is apparently real broke.

Everybody says she's a madam who was operating a brothel and was pulling in somewhere between $10 million and $15 million a year. But apparently, according to the judge, she tells the judge she doesn't have two nickels to rob together, and yet, she's facing $2 million for bond, 2 million bucks on one charge of prostitution. What's up with that?

Here's how nice her attorney is. See the guy at the glass in the middle? That's Peter Gleason, former cop, great dude, he's her lawyer. He's putting up his own loft in TriBeCa, $2.5 million loft, as bond for her so that she can get out. And then he says her family can stay there, too.

That is a nice lawyer. I think that's the lawyer you want.

SAMBOLIN: That's an unusual lawyer.

BANFIELD: Unusual move but it does happen. This stuff happens. The judge said, look, I'll look into it. I give you an answer on that on Thursday.

So, Thursday, we'll find out if she gets to stay in a $2.5 million TriBeCa loft and get out with an ankle bracelet or something.

Twenty-one minutes now past 5:00.

There will be no federal aid from FEMA for tornado-ravaged Harrisburg, Illinois. The city's request apparently rejected.

SAMBOLIN: Seven people were killed there, 98 homes destroyed in Harrisburg during last month's storm. Take a look at those pictures.

FEMA says the state of Illinois, home owners insurance and local charities can cover all of the damage. Local leaders are puzzled.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I can't believe it. I was there a little over a week ago and saw it firsthand. I've never seen worse tornado damage.

CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: It really has to do with the state as a whole, not the proximity of damage to the other states. And so, when we look and evaluate governors' requests, we look at the total amount of impact first as a state, how much of that was insured, what other programs may be available.


SAMBOLIN: Senator Dick Durbin also says that he plans to meet with FEMA officials tomorrow and will ask them to reconsider their decision. I remember talking to FEMA early on and they said we're beginning to sit back, we're going to wait and we're going to assess the situation before we start spending federal dollars there.

BANFIELD: Soledad and I spent a fair amount of time in Harrisburg. And here's the deal -- while the pictures look brutal and anybody who lives there has suffered greatly. It was very pocketed. The damage was pocketed, though. It wasn't like Joplin where the entire city was just ravaged.

These pockets of damage were terrible, but they weren't citywide. In fact, when we drove into the city, I thought we were in the wrong place because we drove in on the north part of city and everything was fine. And then we got to this, that was at strip mall, with the sports store that was a disaster. And then there was the housing complex where five people died out of the six that died in Harrisburg. But it was that one complex that really took a big hit and homes around it.

So, I think I can understand it but it's no less painful.

SAMBOLIN: It's tough for the folks who live there as well.

BANFIELD: And the folks who have to put up with that kind of a decision.

Twenty-three minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast.

And coming up: here's a weird one. Take a shot. Tide, apparently pretty hot on the black market these days. Imagine trying to shoplift that. They're big, they're heavy, but somehow people are stealing it by the truckload. Tide. Tide.

People trying to figure out why at this point. Police getting involved. We're going to try to get to the bottom of it.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: It is March Madness GOP-style. The party's final four in the Deep South now.

BANFIELD: And Mitt Romney is really trying to secure number one status in the Deep South, saying it's him or it will be nobody. So, who's going to be left standing tonight?

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 27 minutes past 5:00 on the East Coast. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're very happy you're joining us this morning.

It's time to check stories making news this morning.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by a single U.S. soldier won't alter the course the United States and its NATO allies have charted for Afghanistan. Panetta says war is hell and tragic events take place. But it's important to stick to the strategy.

BANFIELD: Record floods slamming southern Louisiana, some areas hit with more than 20 inches of rain. Flash flood warnings still in effect, four-foot floodwaters surrounded a school bus with middle school kids in it on Monday in Lafayette Parish. Sixteen of those middle school kids have to be reached using boats and dump trucks -- all safe, though.

SAMBOLIN: Tornado-ravaged Harrisburg, Illinois, will not be getting federal aid from FEMA. Their request has been denied. Seven people were killed, 98 homes were leveled in Harrisburg during last month's deadly storms. The city's mayor says he just doesn't get it. FEMA insists the state home owners insurance and local charities can cover all of the costs there.

BANFIELD: The Reverend Robert Schuller is resigning from the board of directors of the Crystal Cathedral. You might remember him because he founded the televangelist ministry four decades ago and made it famous through his "Hour of Power" TV program. The megachurch has fallen on hard times in recent years.

SAMBOLIN: A $27 billion lawsuit against the three largest tobacco companies in Canada is now in court. The civil class-action suit claims the companies do not adequately warn of the dangers of cigarettes. One of companies is calling the lawsuit an opportunistic cash grab.

BANFIELD: And you might call this a grime wave -- yes, I get grime, not crime. Apparently police across the country are trying to figure this one out. Why are thieves stealing so much Tide laundry detergent? Some stores like Safeway and Wal-Mart are reporting losing $15,000 to $20,000 a month in Tide detergent alone.

Police say it's possible that maybe addicts are trading it for drugs or selling it on the black market, though, why they would choose something like that instead of something small like batteries, I don't know. But Tide, a big issue.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Interesting.

BANFIELD: And just tide. Not like all the other nice spring smelling detergents out there. Very odd.

SAMBOLIN: All right. President Obama's approval rating is plunging. That is according to the latest "New York Times"/CBS poll. Despite an improving jobs picture and protracted Republican primary battle, 47 percent of Americans now disapprove of the president's job performance. Only 41 percent approve. And just last month, the president's approval rating hit 50 percent in that same poll.


BANFIELD (on-camera): It is 30 minutes now past five o'clock. There's absolute outrage brewing in Florida over the killing of an unarmed teenager in a gated community. Police say, so far, no charges are planned against the person who shot the 17-year-old. Here's what happened. The community was in Sanford, Florida.

The 17-year-old's name is Trayvon Martin (ph). He was walking to his father's fiance's house after getting some Skittles, a couple of things at the 7-11, and then, that's where it gets grey. He came in contact with the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman (ph), who says he had to act in self-defense after reporting a suspicious person person. Martin, the 17-year-old is Black. Zimmerman is White.

Police took Zimmerman into custody after Zimmerman allegedly shot the teenager, but then released him saying there are no grounds to disprove his story that he was scared for his life. But listen to what Trayvon Martin's (ph) mom has to say about this.


SABRINA FULTON, TREYVON'S MOM: I stand before you today asking for justice for my son. I'm a no mother (ph). And I just want justice for my son. I love my son dearly. My heart is broken, and I don't know what else to say.


BANFIELD: It is difficult to hear those words, perhaps, even more difficult for folks in that community to try to figure out why this is happening. And joining me now to maybe try to sort through some of this is CNN legal contributor, Paul Callan.

So, Paul, the first question is, Trayvon Martin (ph) had a pack of Skittles in his pocket. He was not armed. I think he had, maybe, an iced tea and maybe something else, but by all accounts, this kid, 17-year-old kid, was not armed, and yet, he's dead. Where is the disconnect?

PAUL CALLAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This is shocking, shocking case. He was shot in the chest. He has no weapon, no knife, nothing that would indicate he had the ability to inflict deadly physical force on this individual, George Zimmerman (ph) who shot him.

And people are stunned by it, but you know, the police have said Mr. Zimmerman, when he was questioned, indicated that he was acting in self-defense, that the young man had attacked him and that he had the right to protect himself with a weapon. And Ashleigh, I have to tell you, Florida is one of about 15 states in the United States that have something called a stand your ground law.


CALLAN: And it's very easy to assert self-defense in Florida. This law was signed by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005, and it changed the law in Florida. It said basically that even if you're outside of your home, if you think you're under attack and you have to protect yourself, you can use deadly physical force if you're in fear. You don't have to run or retreat. BANFIELD: I get that.


BANFIELD: I get that. But don't you have to be met with deadly force? I mean, if someone brings a knife to a gun fight, that isn't fair. So, don't you have to feel deadly force before you can react with deadly force, understand your ground?

CALLAN: Yes, understand your ground. You have to be in reasonable fear of deadly physical force, but it's not decided by whether one guy has a knife and the other guy has a gun, which is the phrase that you're referring to, bringing a gun to a knife fight. You usually lose in court when you do that.

However, in Florida, if you say to the police, I was acting in self-defense, he attacked me and I was afraid for my life, the police are in a bind. And here, let's look at this fact pattern. What we know now, and I don't know what's going to develop. This is being investigated by the state's attorney's office, and it may turn if additional facts come to light. Right now, the police know only one thing, Zimmerman has said he was attacking me. I was in fear of my life. I had to take a gun out and shoot to protect myself.

They have no other evidence. So, they're saying the only evidence we have is a statement that he acted in self-defense. You, as a prosecutor, have to be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. How do they disprove his statement?

BANFIELD: Well, there's where the facts and the evidence come in.

CALLAN: That's right.

BANFIELD: So, at this point, we don know about any witnesses. We do know there are 911 calls, people calling in to complain that there was this altercation, and we also know that Zimmerman had a bloody nose, and that apparently, on his back, Paul, there were grass stains and blood as well. That has to factor in well for him as the police try to find some kind of probable cause, right?

CALLAN: It will factor well for him. I have seen also reports, though, that Zimmerman may have a criminal record himself.

BANFIELD: Does that matter?

CALLAN: Well, I think it's going to have a bearing on the investigation. You can have a criminal record and still act in self- defense, but certainly, it's something the police are going to consider. You know, I was kind of shocked, Ashleigh, when I was looking at the research on this stand your ground law. There have been about 65 cases in Florida involving deaths --


CALLAN: -- where this law has been the deciding factor in the case. You know, in New York, for instance, most of the big states, if somebody attacks you, you have an obligation to try to retreat first before you can use deadly physical force.

BANFIELD: But not in Florida.

CALLAN: No. You don't have to retreat in Florida. Hold your gun out, stand your ground.

BANFIELD: And that's not the same as the castle doctrine. If you're in your house and someone enters, you can do what you want, right?

CALLAN: You know what it is? Good question, because what Florida has done is it's taken the castle doctrine, which means you, basically, can protect your home and it's allowed you to use that same doctrine in the street. It moves the castle doctrine to the street, and they name it stand your ground in Florida.

BANFIELD: So, you and I aren't finished talking about this, because obviously, we have to figure out what the state's attorney is going to do about this and to see if he's going to be charged with anything or is this the end.

CALLAN: Yes. You know, it's a tragic case, and I think we're going to see more developments as the week goes on.

BANFIELD: Paul, thank you.

CALLAN: Nice being with you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Thanks for being up this morning.


BANFIELD: Thirty-six minutes past the hour. Still ahead, more bank outrage now. Citibank cutting jobs, giving a massive bonus to its CEO. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Ah, sun's coming up soon on you, Atlanta. Good morning to you. It's 60 degrees currently, but you've got a warm one, 79 degrees your expected high today. Looks like there are some clouds in the sky, but maybe that heat will burn them off as you head off to work this morning.

SAMBOLIN: That would be nice for them.

BANFIELD: Pretty shot.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Yes, it is a pretty shot. The stakes are high in the south. The polls open in three hours in Alabama and Mississippi. Romney is hoping to pull off a southern sweep. He may have to knock out Newt Gingrich in order to do it, though. The new American research poll shows in Alabama, Gingrich leads Romney 34 percent to 31 percent. That's within the margin of error. Meantime, in Mississippi, Romney leads Gingrich, 34 percent to 32 percent. Again, a statistical dead heat. And Romney sound (ph) being dire warning the GOP needs a nominee and they need a nominee now. So, let's talk to our political panel, live from Washington, Republican strategist, Matt Keelen, from Gardendale, Alabama, CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, and in Washington, Democratic strategist, Linda Moore-Forbes.

Paul, I'm going to start with you. It's all about the numbers. This is supposed to be Gingrich's home advantage, right, but we saw what happened to Mitt Romney with his home court advantage. So, now, Romney has got it all tied up in the south, a statistical tie there. What are some of the key voting blocs that could swing the vote for either Gingrich or Romney?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Social conservative voters very important vote here in Alabama and in Mississippi. That could be a problem for Mitt Romney, let's be honest, because you know, his religion, his Mormon faith could be an issue with some voters in the state. Listen, of course, the economy is still the top issue for everybody here in Alabama and Mississippi.

But social conservative voters could be influential, and that could be a problem for Romney. But as you showed from those polls and other surveys that have been taken over the last few days, Romney seems competitive. It, basically, seems almost like a three-way tossup here and in Mississippi.

SAMBOLIN: Kind of neck and neck, so it's making it really exciting, isn't it?

STEINHAUSER: It sure is. And as you mentioned also, Gingrich really needs wins here.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

STEINHAUSER: He needs a win here and in Mississippi to continue on, but he says regardless, he's going all the way to the convention.


STEINHAUSER: That's what he says.

SAMBOLIN: And Matt, Romney is still trying to end it tonight whether it's through winning or through some dire warnings. Here's what he said on Fox News.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we go all the way to a convention, we would be -- we would signaling our doom in terms of replacing President Obama. We need to select somebody to become our nominee, get that person nominated, and get focused on President Obama and get him out of the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Matt, how much of this is political posturing?

MATT KEELEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think a fair amount of it is. Look, he wants to start concentrating on President Obama and his failed policies and not be fighting amongst friends with Santorum and Gingrich. And I think what you've seen over the last couple of days is that Obama's numbers on the economy are starting to come down.

This is when Romney really wants to start zeroing in on the failed policies of the last three and a half years.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to talk about those numbers with Linda. Despite the threats of doom for the GOP, President Obama should not sit easy, right? The latest "New York Times"/CBS poll approval ratings show that he is down four points to 41 percent. The big issue that could be affecting it, however, is gas prices. Here's what White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said about this.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What he is not willing to do is to look the American people in the eye and claim that there is a strategy by which he can guarantee the price of gas will be $2.50 at the pump. Any politician who does that is lying.


SAMBOLIN: So, obviously, that is a dig at Newt Gingrich, but this is a real problem, right? Fifty-four percent of people believe a president can do a lot to control gas prices. Economists say that it's not true. We've had several of them on here that there's not much that a president can do, but how does President Obama deal with this issue? Because the American public believes that he can do something about it.

LINDA MOORE-FORBES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Exactly. It's a very difficult situation. He's made clear that he's doing everything he can in his power to take care of the situation in terms of an all of the above energy approach. So, in terms of drilling here in the U.S., in terms of oil production and gas production here in the U.S., the president is doing everything he can to up the ante here.

But, it's all the speculation and all the concern about oil in the Mideast and possible disruption in those lines that is causing a lot of this. And so, that's why foreign policy is coming in as a big part of the polls that we've seen lately, too. But I will tell you this, I know that President Obama and his team at the White House and also at the campaign know very well that this is an incredibly volatile, very difficult election.

And they're taking nothing for granted. So, they are speaking every day about gas prices and what they can and can't do about it and pointing out what the other candidates can and can't do about it. But they are doing everything they can to make sure that people are getting as much money into their pocket as they possibly can to deal with this kind of issues. I think that, you know, for Romney to talk about getting other people out of the race, this is something he brought up in the last segment. In some ways, he's benefitting from having both Gingrich and Santorum in. But he also knows that they can make sure that he doesn't have the number of delegates he needs at the convention. So, the two of them can block him from getting the nomination.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul, I'm going to give you the final word here. You know, a lot of speculation about whether or not Gingrich will drop out if he doesn't win in the south. What do you think?

STEINHAUSER: He sounds like a person who is not getting out of the race. That's what he said over and over over the last two weeks. He says committed to going all way to Tampa, but let's be honest. If he doesn't do well here in Alabama or in Mississippi, that course of criticism, the course for him to get out of the race is going to get louder and louder and louder.

SAMBOLIN: But he has plenty of Super PAC money left, right?

STEINHAUSER: He does right now, but let's see how long Sheldon Adelson will continue to give that money if Newt Gingrich doesn't perform well, especially in his home turf like here in Alabama and Mississippi.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul, Matt, and Linda, thank you for joining us this morning. We'll see you again on our next hour. And CNN's coverage of the Mississippi and Alabama primaries begins at 7:00 p.m. eastern tonight with Erin Burnett. That is followed by complete live coverage of the results beginning at 8:00 with Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper and the best political team on television.

BANFIELD: It is 45 minutes now past 5:00 on the east coast.

Got gas? Is it the gas price effect, because President Obama's approval rating is plunging, as those numbers go up.

SAMBOLIN: And granny goes viral. And she doesn't know what it means. Her review of the town's brand new olive garden going way beyond Grand Forks, North Dakota. We're going to share all that with you. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 49 minutes past the hour. Christine Romans is here with a check of the stories that are making news this morning -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, ladies. Voting begins in just over two hours in Alabama and Mississippi.


ROMANS (voice-over): The polls show both primaries are tossups between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Hawaii and American Samoa will hold their caucuses tonight. A total of 110 delegates up for grabs.

And according to the latest "New York Times"/CBS poll, the president's approval rating has taken a big hit. Forty-seven percent of Americans now disapprove of the president's job performance. Only 41 percent approve. Just last month, the president's approval rating hit 50 percent in that very same poll.

CitiGroup's CEO, Vikram Pandit, picked up a nice paycheck in 2011. According to filings with the SEC, he made $14.8 million last year, including a $5.3 million cash bonus. That despite the fact that CitiGroup's shares lost 44 percent of their value last year.

Gas prices up to $3.81 a gallon. The national average ticking up another four-tenths of a cent. High gas prices are here to stay. Analysts say we can expect to see $4 to $5 gas through the summer. We're only about really 30 cents shy of the all-time high for gas prices set back in July 2008.

Eighty-five-year-Old Marilyn Hagerty, a restaurant critic for the "Grand Forks Herald" in North Dakota, she's become an internet sensation after her glowing review of the new olive garden in town. It went viral. Actress and comedian, Jane Lynch, guest hosting on "Piers Morgan Tonight," she talked to Haggerty about her new-found celebrity.


MARILYN HAGERTY, RESTAURANT REVIEW WENT VIRAL: It just seems like it's a dream. It doesn't seem like it's real. It seems like something that I'm just sort of -- I'm going to wake up and this didn't really happen.



ROMANS (on-camera): Hagerty says her son, who happens to be a "Wall Street Journal" reporter, told her about the eat beat review going viral. She had to ask him, what does viral mean? What does it mean? You can read about it on front page of "The Journal" put it on the front page today.

SAMBOLIN: She's very adorable.

ROMANS: Marilyn Hagerty, and she's not just a food critic, ladies. She writes about everything, and she has a sewage treatment facility named after her.

SAMBOLIN: And apparently, she has a happy column, right?

BANFIELD: It's called Eat Beat.

ROMANS: She has a most cheerful -- cheerful person in the world. Look, this is -- she's an institution in both Dakotas.

SAMBOLIN: I want to be just like her when I grow up. BANFIELD: I love this woman. It's the Eat Beat, and she talks about the olive garden as having a Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. That's really sweet.

ROMANS: And she's viral, but she doesn't know what that means.

BANFIELD: No wonder it went viral. All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, guys.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-two minutes past the hour. Still ahead, more people tying the knot during March madness. It's not what you think. We are not talking about getting married. Why doctors say it is a great time to have a vasectomy, gentlemen?

BANFIELD: And also, do you want to live longer? I got an idea for you. See the red meat? You might want to cut back if a study out there is accurate. And it is one heck of a study. Goes three decades plus. The news isn't great, folks. You're going to want to hear this. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 55 minutes past the hour. We like to keep you in the pop culture loop. And this morning. we're taking a look at what's trending on the interwebs and social media.

SAMBOLIN: Got to live this story. So, March madness is a really busy time in Vegas, right? It's also a busy time at the urologist's office. Doctors say they see a huge increase in guys coming to get vasectomies. Just a few days before the NCAA tournament begins. Why? Because it's the perfect excuse to sit in front of the TV, recover, and enjoy all of the games.

Some urologists even offer free pizza to their patients and a bag of frozen peas to apply to the affected area. So, the doctors that offer the free pizza, I have to tell you, it's 21st Century Urology in Orland Park. So, that's in Illinois. And one doctor in Cleveland says he does 50 percent more vasectomies this time of year.

My question is, what are you going to do next year in order to get the time off, guys?

BANFIELD: Oh, yes. Well, at least they're getting them, right? Because that's the big complaint, can't get you got and go do it. Maybe we should have March madness and September madness. I'm just saying.

It is now four minutes before the top of the hour. The guys in the studio are cringing, and they're not going to like this report either. Cut out the red meat if you want to live a little longer. Apparently, there is a big, big study out now that goes decades that says this stuff will kill you. We'll explain in a moment.