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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

"Cruise from Hell" Finally Ends; Meteor Shower Rocks Russia; Hagel Vote Blocked; "Blade Runner" Charged with Murder

Aired February 15, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Incredible pictures from overnight, a meteor shower resembles fireballs raining down on Russia, shattering glass, 500 people, maybe more are hurt. We'll have a live report in a few moments.

Plus an Olympic champion charged with murdering his girlfriend, he breaks down crying and shaking in court. We have a brand new images and the bombshell, he'll be charged with premeditated murder.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, I'm Brooke Baldwin live in Mobile, Alabama. Count them, 4,229 passengers and crew now slowly making their way home, after their cruise vacation turned horrendous, hear what they had to endure this last long five days coming up.

It is Friday, February 15th -- a special edition of STARTING POINT beginning right now.

(MUSIC)

BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone. While you slept, so much went on.

New this morning: a flash of light followed by a powerful blast. That's how witnesses are describing a spectacular meteor shower in southern Russia, spectacular to look at, but it injured some 500 people. Nearly two dozen of them had to be sent to the hospital.

Most of the injuries caused by broken glass. The blast shattering windows, interrupting cell phone service and setting off car alarms for miles in the Ural Mountain region.

Now, coming up, we're going to have a live report from Moscow with the details that are just developing as of this minute.

And also just in to CNN: new images of "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius breaking down in a South African courtroom today as he was being charged with premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. A bail hearing for Pistorius has been postponed until next Tuesday. He remains in custody right now.

Prosecutors are expected to against -- prosecutors are expected to argue the murder charge, Pistorius says he will fight the murder charge.

Steenkamp was shot four times early Thursday morning at Pistorius' home in Pretoria, which is a suburb -- outside of Johannesburg, by about an hour, not a suburb.

Pistorius, a double amputee, made history when he competed in the 2012 Summer Games in London. He won a silver medal as part of the South African relay team -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: I recognize you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's still warm.

BERMAN: Hey, Brooke.

BALDWIN: John, thank you.

I'm Brooke Baldwin here in Mobile, where just hours ago, this now infamous Triumph right behind me here was pushed into port by four different tugboats.

Remember, at one point the line snapped? They replaced it yesterday afternoon. So now this steady stream of more than 4,000 people finally got of this boat, all very much so this morning relieved to be off this swaying, stinky ship.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN (voice-over): It was the sound passengers waited five agonizing days for, the horn signaling that Carnival Triumph had finally arrived in port. Cheers, ending days of misery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy to be home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wonderful to be home.

BALDWIN: Passengers headed to a hot shower and warm bed, leaving their well-documented vacation from hell behind, many heaping praise on the crew in the process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They served us with smiles and served us in ways that are truly unthinkable.

BALDWIN: As unthinkable as this, the now infamous red bags used in place of non-working toilets.

But nothing compared to this video that squishy sound is a urine- soaked carpet.

Some of the scenes looked like refugee camps with makeshift beds set up anywhere there was fresh air. In halls, on deck, even by the pool.

And then there were the food lines, and the spaghetti tangle of cell phone cords.

And as the ship finally came into sight from a CNN helicopter, a call for help, an SOS, and the most heartwarming scene of the trip, a Valentine fashioned out of life vests.

As they finally left their nightmare behind, some took a souvenir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, Carnival, for taking your bath robe. I did not pay for this. But I figured they owed me.

BALDWIN: And many seemed ready to do it again, at least someday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to keep my feet on land for a little while. But if you get a free seven-day cruise, I mean, how can you pass that up, right?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: A lot of people aren't passing it up. You know, as part of this whole compensation package from Carnival, passengers were offered hotel rooms overnight so they could finally get a good night's sleep, get that warm shower that I know so many wanted before making their journey home and carnival cruise lines booked the entire holiday inn right here in Mobile, Alabama.

So let me go to Victor Blackwell. He's inside that hotel this morning.

Have you talked to passengers? Have they slept? Is it good morning, good evening? What are they telling you?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's good to be back on land, that's what it is. Whatever time of day it feels like, they're ready to get a hot shower. They're ready to get into bed.

We have spoken actually with members of the carnival crew, the Triumph crew pulled in, and we actually pulled one guy to the side. His name is Sachen Sharma (ph). And he said this wasn't difficult at all.

The first question I asked him, you know, the passengers said over and over the crew was extraordinary.

He said, "It wasn't difficult. We tried. We're experienced guys. Whatever came to us, we did for our passengers, and for our customers." So he says it wasn't difficult at all.

At this holiday inn, and next door at the Wingate, there are about 130, 140 rooms that have been booked for crew members. They're here for three nights. Now, this one member of the team says they'll be here for three nights and then possibly transferred to another ship and get back to work.

But they're happy to have these three days of relaxation and then it's probably back to work -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Victor Blackwell, thank you very much.

I want to bring in a couple of people who you might recognize, especially this bright yellow sweatshirt. We have Kim McKerreghan and daughter Allie. We have Mary Poret and daughter Rebekah. So, welcome to all of you.

I totally recognize this yellow sweatshirt from CNN live yesterday and our helicopter going all around the ship and we saw you on the tiptop deck.

Moms, let me begin with you. Relief?

KIM MCKERREGHAN, MOTHER: Very much relief.

MARY PORET, MOTHER: Relief.

BALDWIN: How late were you here last night waiting for the girls to get off the ship?

MCKERREGHAN: One-thirty.

BALDWIN: One-thirty?

MCKERREGHAN: Yes.

M. PORET: After the ship docked, it took forever to get them off. Over two hours. Easy two hours to get off. They stood in the stairwell waiting.

BALDWIN: Stood in a stairwell.

Describe the final hours, you were with your dads on the cruise, you're good friends. Did you stick together?

ALLIE TAYLOR, STRANDED ON CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: Yes.

REBEKAH PORET, STRANDED ON CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: Of course. It was hard, because, like you didn't know when you were getting off and if you did know when you were getting off, you were waiting for it to come even more than if you didn't know.

BALDWIN: Even if you didn't know.

How did you girls pass the time? Did you have enough magazines, card games, the last five days?

TAYLOR: Card games.

R. PORET: We played crazy eights like crazy.

BALDWIN: Crazy eights like crazy. Describe the feeling of finally seeing them coming off the boat.

MCKERREGHAN: Relief, finally. We get to hold them. We've talked to them ever since they've gotten service, but just to have them and hold them, it's a relief.

BALDWIN: I have to play the moment because I have to admit my eyes were glued to CNN. Of course, I'm sitting there working. We're all watching Ashleigh Banfield live on TV. So, we have -- was it you on the phone? I recognized the yellow sweatshirt you were waving your hands above on the top deck.

What was it finally like to talk to the girls? The cell phones, a lot of them weren't charged so you hadn't talked to the girls up until then.

MCKERREGHAN: We had been bombarded with family and friends calling us every moment and you look at your phone you're like, it's not her. Look again, it's not her and I flipped over the phone and it was her name and picture, oh my God it's her! She's calling! She's calling!

So, we got to talk and it was awesome and finally, Rebekah got to get through. So, I think everybody was getting through at the same time. And Mary is like, "Where is Rebekah? Where is Rebekah? Why isn't she calling yet? Why isn't she calling yet?"

And, finally, Rebekah came through two minutes later. It was the longest two minutes for her, but it was shortest two minutes for me when I was talking to her, you know? So, it's been a share and go and it's been a great reunion.

BALDWIN: Girls, how stinky was it?

TAYLOR: I started -- I had this reaction I just wanted to vomit, like every second probably.

R. PORET: Like through the dining room, there was just this stench when you passed the drinks because all the drainage was coming from the refrigerators and freezers, they got melted, to the side of the boat it was tilting on and when you walked by it was mooshy and you just had this horrible smell in your throat that you couldn't get rid of.

BALDWIN: Mooshy -- that is a new adjective I am hearing this morning.

Ladies, thank you so much. I'm so glad you're all together, reunited, and heading back to school, I supposed. Oh, yes, heading back to school as you guys were supposed to be back on Monday, and what are we now on Friday.

Thank you so much. Safe travels to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: John Berman, I will send it back up to you in New York. How about that?

BERMAN: I love hearing from the mothers, oh yes, they'll be getting back to school. You better believe that.

All right. Brooke, thanks so much.

BALDWIN: Oh, yes, they will.

BERMAN: We have more on that meteor shower burning up the skies while you all were sleeping. At least 500 people injured in Russia this morning when the meteors burned through the atmosphere. Phil Black live in Moscow right now for us. And, Phil, what's the latest?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, this event that we're talking about today only lasted for a few seconds, but the impact, the discussion has been so widespread and so dramatic.

As you said, a number of people injured is now up around 500 or more. That is how many people Russian government has said have requested medical assistance. We believe around 30 or so are in hospital. A smaller number, around three or four, we are told, are still in grave condition.

This is the result of what was a large meteor striking the Earth's atmosphere around 9:20 local time in the central Russian location, fragmenting as it tore through the atmosphere at high speed.

But it was not the meteor itself or the fragments which spread out over a wide area that caused the destruction and the damage, it was the sonic boom, the shock waves caused by this tearing through the atmosphere that has shattered so many windows and so many buildings and ultimately hurt so many people across a wide area, John.

BERMAN: Phil, I'm talking to Christine Romans. And the thing that we're discussing is this looks like a movie, this looks so different than anything any of us have ever seen when we look up to the skies. Is there any sense there was panic there as this was going on?

BLACK: If you look at a lot of the video that has come out of this region this morning, and there is a lot of it, because Russians often have cameras installed in their cars (ph). So, a strange number of them caught the exact moment the bright flashes tearing through the sky. You can certainly hear the panic, the shock, particularly in the wake of those booms and shock waves that have struck people.

You can hear the blast really very loud and around people, just the sound of broken glass everywhere. So, absolutely a terrifying few moments for these people who were going about their regular Friday morning activities, school, work, home, driving, whatever else. They were not expecting this, and certainly when you look at those pictures, it looks a little Armageddonish, sort of an expression we're hearing this morning describing those events and the videos we're seeing out of the region.

BERMAN: Yes, it certainly does. Right.

Phil Black, what a sight it is. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Meanwhile, dental records confirm the charred human remains found in the burned out condo in Big Bear, California, they are Christopher Dorner's. He was that fired Los Angeles cop accused of killing four people. Authorities in San Bernardino, California, did not say how Dorner died. The rogue ex-cop's nine-day reign of terror ended Tuesday during a shoot-out with officers in the mountains east of Los Angeles. An unprecedented Republican filibuster means it will be at least another 10 days before the full Senate gets to vote on Chuck Hagel to be Defense Secretary. So as Hagel waits in the wings, the man he's supposed to replace, Leon Panetta, who was all but out the door, he's going to have to stay on a little bit longer.

Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is live on Capitol Hill.

Dana, before you go, I have to say -- Dana's reporting on this, it was an hour ahead of even the senators. She knew what was happening yesterday before most of the Senate on top of the story. So, Dana, what is the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, John.

Well, you know, there was a lot of last-minute lobbying from the vice president himself. He still couldn't convince enough Republicans to back off their filibuster of the president's Defense Secretary nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yeas are 58, the nays are 40.

BASH (voice-over): It was a moment for the history books.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.

BASH: Chuck Hagel fell short of the 50 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster of his nomination to be Defense Secretary. Only four Republicans supported their former Senate GOP colleague.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The filibuster of Senator Hagel's confirmation is unprecedented. I repeat, not a single nominee for Secretary of Defense ever in the history of our country has been filibustered, never, ever.

BASH: Republicans argued they need more time, saying Hagel is too controversial to be confirmed only days after getting through committee on a party-line vote.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has a right to appoint people in whom he has confidence, but we have a constitutional responsibility to consider the nominee. A number of the Republican senators have questions.

BASH: But Democrats see it another way, that Republicans are dragging their feet on Hagel in order to look for more information to bring him down.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Let's not hide behind a filibuster. Let's have the courage. Vote yes or vote no. Don't hide behind parliamentary tricks.

BASH: The White House knew from day one Hagel's confirmation would not be easy. Controversial statements on Israel, Jews and gays as well as his positions on Iran and Iraq put him in the crosshairs of senators on both sides of the aisle, but mostly fellow Republicans.

And a widely panned performance at his confirmation hearing, even by Democrats, didn't help.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I misspoke and said I supported the president's position on containment.

BASH: But only in the last 48 hours did it become clear that Hagel did not have the votes to overcome a filibuster this week.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Senators have the right to have those questions answered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, what happened was a handful of Republican senators, including McCain, had promised not to support a filibuster. Then, they reversed themselves to go along with the majority of Republicans who wanted to delay this.

Now, John, the idea is that there's going to be a vote already on the schedule about 10 days from now, the idea is that he will be confirmed then. That's what many Republican senators who voted no yesterday said they will vote yes then, but, you know, we have seen this roller coaster and a lot of people out there are trying to dig up some new dirt to bring Hagel down.

BERMAN: That's what they say, Dana. That's what the plan is but little has gone as planned here.

Dana Bash in Washington, nice to see you this morning.

BASH: You, too.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, President Obama returns to his adopted hometown of Chicago today for the latest in a series of campaign-style events promoting his second term agenda that includes gun control. The president will speak to high school students about guns and the need for tougher laws to curb the deadly violence that's been devastating Chicago.

Up next, he is charged with murder, but Oscar Pistorius says he will fight the charge in the killing of his girlfriend as he breaks down in court. The legal case next with attorney Mark Geragos.

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BERMAN: New information just in to CNN that Oscar Pistorius will fight the premeditated murder charge against him. We have some new images of the superstar Olympian breaking down, crying in court this morning. He's accused of killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, the double amputee, made history when he won a silver medal at the London Olympics as part of a South African relay team. He will now remain in jail until at least his new bail hearing which is next Tuesday.

Mark Geragos is a criminal defense attorney whose new book, "Mistrial", comes out in April. And Mark, we now know that Oscar Pistorius says he will fight the premeditated murder charge. Knowing what you know, as a defense attorney, what's the best way for him to go about doing this?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, apparently, he' s taken the tact, at least if you believe what's out there, already in the ether, that he did not know it was her, that he thought it was an intruder, and that's why she was shot and killed. That's the best case scenario.

The worst case is that there's a history of domestic violence, that the prosecutors are taking the position that this was premeditated, and that's precisely why, by the way, that they put over the bail hearing, because he's facing a life sentence.

BERMAN: Let's break that down into two parts there, because yesterday, one of the things police said is that there had been a history of incidents of a domestic nature with Pistorius. So explain to me when you heard that, what did you think?

GERAGOS: It usually means that either the police have been called out there before or there's been some kind of a prior charge that's been filed involving domestic violence and assault or a battery, or something of that nature, some kind of a fight or a history that would give the police the belief that it's going to escalate to a point where he would end up killing her.

BERMAN: And as a defense attorney, is that the type of thing that makes your job more difficult?

GERAGOS: That's something you welcome with open arms.

BERMAN: And when we heard this morning the news that just came in within the last couple hours that the prosecutors have decided to charge him with premeditated murder, again, when you heard that, what do you think they have to make that decision?

GERAGOS: I think they're probably basing it on the priors, because they figure there is a theory out there that is used in the criminal justice system that there's always an escalation, or there can be an escalation of the cycle of violence. So that's probably what they're basing it on.

And the first reports that came out where that he had said initially that he didn't know it was her, that he was distraught, after he discovered it was her, that he thought it was an intruder. So there's going to be at least it sounds like some kind of a self-defense or defense of habitation, meaning that he thought it was a burglar. She came in. He mistook her for a burglar. That's why he fired. He never had any intent to kill her. If he had known it was her, he'd never have done it. That strikes me as the center or the core of his defense in this case. BERMAN: Mark, you have defended a lot of famous people. Oscar Pistorius is a huge international star, and inside South Africa, it's even bigger. So what are the challenges defending someone who is quite frankly a mega star in your country?

GERAGOS: Well, I've always said that there is a distinction between defending somebody who is famous and somebody who's infamous. In this case, he is famous. He is going to get a presumption of innocence. He will get the benefit of the doubt. So this is somebody that a defense lawyer will welcome defending in the sense that the public is not going to come here pre-disposed to find him guilty.

The public is going to come here with a kind of a predisposition, if you will, that what he says is true, that this is somebody you want to help, this is somebody that you admire. Those are all things that are extremely helpful from a defense standpoint, and those are the obstacles precisely that the prosecution has to face.

BERMAN: All right. Mark Geragos, defense attorney, thank you for being with us this morning. This is a shocking case, a fascinating case, and also a tragic case for so many people in South Africa. Thanks for being with us.

Meanwhile, from life vests shaped as hearts or towels reading S.O.S., we're going to look at some of the standout moments from the cruise ship nightmare as passengers finally, finally, get to go home.

And he's been called a king maker in Hollywood. Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is here live with his new film "Escape From Planet Earth."

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BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. You're looking live at the cruise ship Triumph docked in Mobile Bay this morning. There are also some powerful images coming out of this nightmare. Look at this. Passenger Kendall Jenkins (ph) literally kissing the ground after getting off the ship.

And look at these guys so happy to see land they draped "Sweet Home Alabama" signs over the side as the cruise liner pulled in. These passengers, they honor Valentine's Day, making a giant heart out of life vests. That's my favorite. And some other folks, they made an S.O.S. sign out of pool towels. A lot of creativity there.

Plus, the cruise's band, listen.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BERMAN: And the band played on. They're playing music to keep the sanity, those last excruciating hours before the ship finally docked -- Brooke.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: Finally, we are hearing, John Berman, from local officials. They're going to be moving this cruise ship to the other side of the channel here in Mobile at some point little later today, and that is when the cleaning process begins and that is when the fixing process begins.

But this is not the first time Carnival cruise passengers have endured a nightmare. We're going to look at the recent history here, and I will talk to a couple, actually interviewed them back in 2010. Do you remember the boat who's called the Splendor lost power, hauntingly similar to the Triumph here, had to be towed. Has the company learned anything? We'll ask.

BERMAN: And incredible pictures overnight, a meteor shower resembling fireballs raining down on Russia, shattering glass, about 500 people hurt. We'll have a live report in just a few moments.

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