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New Details in Oscar Pistorius Case; Mindy McCready Found Dead; Man Slaps Baby Aboard Airplane; Chicago Teen Shot; Danica Patrick Makes History at Daytona; Fraud Other Problems Dog Army Program

Aired February 18, 2013 - 09:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now, breaking overnight, investigators releasing new details about what happened that Valentine's Day at Oscar Pistorius' house. His family this morning breaking their silence.

ANTHONY PISTORIUS, OSCAR PISTORIUS' UNCLE: We have no doubt here there's no substance for the allegations.



COSTELLO: Shock in the music world. Country star Mindy McCready committing suicide. Tragedy striking her family twice in just weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had children with a boyfriend who ended up killing himself a few weeks ago.

COSTELLO: Also, pain at the pump. Gas up, way up. Find out what's behind the rise.

Plus, not the boys' club anymore. Danica Patrick, the superstar on the speedway breaking records.

DANICA PATRICK, NASCAR DRIVER: You can do anything you want to do, and gender doesn't matter.

COSTELLO: Becoming the first woman in NASCAR history to capture the pole position.

PATRICK: I love that to go beyond racing, in general, just to kind of break gender barriers.




COSTELLO (on-camera): Good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello. Family, friends, and fans are mourning the death of country music star Mindy McCready today. The 37-year-old singer was found dead on the front porch of her Arkansas home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. McCready's music made her famous, but in recent years, she became more known for her struggle with addiction, mental illness, and run-ins with the law.

If you're not familiar with McCready's music, here's her No. 1 hit from 1996.


COSTELLO: McCready appeared on the "Today" show last month after her boyfriend died of an apparent suicide.


MINDY MCCREADY, COUNTRY MUSIC STAR: Just starting screaming, calling 911. I laid down next to him. I just pleaded with him not to die.


COSTELLO: Nischelle Turner is in Los Angeles. Sadly, people expected this kind of thing to happen.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPODENT: Yes, Carol, she did lead a troubled life and she had made suicide attempts in the past. You know, Mindy McCready's roller coaster life may have included stardom, but it also included trips to rehab, arrest, and domestic abuse before ultimately ending on that same front porch where her boyfriend died.

Since his death, she had been seeking some help, according to HLN's Dr. Drew, who she met while appearing on "Celebrity Rehab". She actually checked herself into a psychiatric facility for a short time after his death. And what may be the saddest part of this whole tragedy, she leaves behind two kids who are now without their mother: two sons, 6 years old and 10 months old, Carol.


MCCREADY: God, no. Oh my god, no. He was my life. We were each other's life.

ANDREA CANNING, NBC: Do you 100 percent believe that David killed himself?

MCCREADY: I don't know.

CANNING: Do you think he could have been murdered?

MCCREADY: I don't know.

CANNING: You have been through so much pain and heart ache in your life, and honestly, your life almost plays like a country music song.

MCCREADY: I just keep telling myself that the more suffering that I go through, that the greater character I'll have.


TURNER: Now, that was an interview that she did on NBC about a month ago. There she was answering questions about her boyfriend's death. There were these ongoing questions about his death but, Carol, the local sheriff's department had never named Mindy a suspect in this. And they do say they are continuing the investigation into his death, Carol.

COSTELLO: Nischelle Turner reporting live from Los Angeles this morning.

Now to new details in the death of Oscar Pistorius's girlfriend. A South African official telling CNN Reeva Steenkamp was shot four times through a bathroom door in Pistorius's home and that Pistorius carried Steenkamp downstairs while she was still alive. These new developments emerge as a reality show starring Steenkamp premiered.

We begin with CNN's Robyn Curnow in Johannesburg.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days after being shot and killed at the home of her boyfriend, Olympian Oscar Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp appeared on South African television.

REEVA STEENKAMP, MODEL: You fall in love with being in love.

CURNOW: This is how her beach adventure reality show began on Saturday. While Reeva's television debut aired, her boyfriend, the double amputee and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, spent the weekend in this jail.

Prosecutors plan to charge Pistorius with her murder, a charge strongly rejected by Pistorius and his family. This is his uncle flanked by his sister, who struggles to keep herself together as they make a brief statement to the media.

ANTHONY PISTORIUS, OSCAR PISTORIUS' UNCLE: As you can imagine, our entire family is devastated. We are in a state of total shock. They had plans together, and Oscar was happy in his private life than I've seen him in a long time.

CURNOW: Investigators who have been combing through his house in this high security complex are starting to piece together what they think happened early on Valentine's Day.

CNN has been told and local media is reporting that police believe Pistorius shot Steenkamp four times through a closed bathroom door and then carried her downstairs, where she died. Neighbors have told police they heard shouting before the shooting, but there's still no solid explanation as to why he might have shot her.

Pistorius appears in court again on Tuesday for his bail hearing. He hasn't entered a plea yet. While Pistorius is in court, Reeva's family says there will be a memorial service for her on Tuesday.

But still, South Africans will be able to watch her beach adventures on the reality show which airs for another nine weeks. Producers released this final message from her, meant to be to the cast, but which now becomes her last words, her last good-bye.

STEENKAMP: I take home with me so many amazing memories and things that are in here that I'll treasure forever. I'm going to miss you all so much. I love you very, very much.


COSTELLO: So eerie. Robyn Curnow joins us now. And Robyn, we keep hearing that somebody -- Pistorius might have feared someone breaking into the house and that's what happened. But were there signs that Reeva had planned to stay for the night?

CURNOW: Just to go back to that, I've heard that last message from her over and over again in the last 24 hours, and it still gives me the chills. It's just so sad, isn't it?

But in terms of what she was planning to do that night, it seems, according to an official close to the investigation, that she was going to be at her boyfriend's house spending the night. They've apparently found her overnight bag, as well as her iPad, in the room. So that in a way does sort of change that initial speculation that Oscar had been surprised. Perhaps she had snuck in for a Valentine's surprise, and that's why he had shot her, that it was a terrible mistake.

We still don't know what the details are, the context are -- why shoot somebody through a closed bathroom door? Still no real understanding of the motive behind that. I think it's this confusion and the sense of unanswered questions that have not just the families concerned, but also many South Africans. Oscar was such a hero here. And many people still grappling to come to terms with that very simple question: Why?

COSTELLO: Robyn Curnow reporting live from South Africa.

An Idaho man out of a job this morning after being accused of slapping a crying toddler and using a racial slur while aboard a Delta flight. Joe Ricky Hundley charged with assaulting a minor after the February 8th flight. On Sunday, the Idaho Aerospace and Defense Company where Ricky worked says he was no longer employed.

Here's CNN's Renee Marsh.


RENEE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jonah Bennett is 19 months old and a curious, ordinary toddler. But what allegedly happened on a February 8th flight from Minneapolis was far from ordinary.

Jessica Bennett says she and her adopted son were on Delta flight 721 to Atlanta in seat 28B. Next to them in seat 28A was this man, Joe Ricky Hundley of Hayden, Idaho.

JESSICA BENNETT, MOM OF JONHA BENNETT: He was just being rude and belligerent, and I just felt very uncomfortable.

MARSH: She says she even left her seat and stood in the back of the plane holding Jonah for much of the flight. But she had to sit back down for landing in Atlanta. Because of the altitude change, Jonah was uncomfortable and crying. Then it got ugly.

BENNETT: I was having trouble comforting him, and that's when the guy had made his comment to me.

MARSH: Court documents say Hundley allegedly told Jessica to, quote, "Shut that N-word baby up."

BENNETT: I could not believe that he would say something like that to a baby or about a baby.

MARSH: Then Hundley allegedly slapped Jonah, hitting him in the eye.

BENNETT: And then to hit him was just -- I felt like I was in another world. I was shaking.

MARSH: According to the criminal complaint, fellow passengers came to her aid.

CNN reached out to Hundley, who has been charged with assaulting a minor. He declined to comment and asked us to talk to his attorney. Hundley's attorney urged the public not to rush to judgment and referred us to comments she made to "The Minneapolis Star-Tribune," where she said her client will plead not guilty and hopefully this situation can be resolved.

Delta says it's cooperating with investigators and that the plane landed safely.


MARSH: All right. Well, Hundley's employer has now weighed in. They fired him yesterday and said through a statement reports of Hundley's behavior while on personal travel was, quote, "offensive and disturbing." He worked at AGC Aerospace and Defense. The company supplies technology and other services to the military and to businesses. Carol?

COSTELLO: Renee Marsh reporting live from Washington this morning.

Police in the Chicago area are questioning two people in the murder of Janay McFarlane. The 18-year-old was killed on Friday just hours after her sister sat behind President Obama during his speech about gun control. McFarlane was walking with friends in a Chicago suburb shortly before midnight when she was shot.


HERBERT MCFARLANE, JANAY'S FATHER: All this gun violence that's going on out here, you never think it will be your child. This is the hardest thing for me in my life.

ANGELA BLAKELY, JANAY'S MOTHER: I felt like somebody took a knife and stabbed me in the heart and took a piece of my heart that I will never, ever in my life get back.


COSTELLO: So far, no charges have been filed.

New details this morning on the Pope's declining health. "The LA Times" reports Pope Benedict XVI may be blind in his left eye. That's according to a German journalist who's interviewed the Pope several times, most recently in December. He tells the newspaper that the Pope's hearing has also faded. And he said that the Pope was so thin, tailors struggle to keep him in his clothes. The Pope cited his poor health in the decision to leave the papacy on February 28.

You might see even higher prices at the gas pumps this morning just a day after environmentalists marched to the White House, urging President Obama to take more action on climate change. And to do that, he must kill the extension of the Keystone Pipeline.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keystone XL is a dirty and dangerous pipeline. It's literally going to cut our country in half carrying a very dangerous fuel, and it will cause runaway climate change.


COSTELLO: Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange - oh, you're in New York, not at the stock exchange. I recognize the difference in the background.


COSTELLO: Let's talk about gas prices because it's kind of a mystery why they keep on rising.

KOSIK: Well, it is kind of the same old thing, so if you've gone to the gas station the past couple of days, you know that prices are higher, Carol. And they are expected to go even higher and peak in the early spring. Now, the good news is analysts we've talked to, as well as AAA, what they say is don't expect the price of a gallon of regular to top last year's peak of $3.94 a gallon. That's good news.

But this is kind of like we've been here before, because these higher prices, they are really typical this time of year. It really is a seasonal thing. The refineries are making that switch to the more expensive cleaner-burning summer fuel, and that switchover, what that does, is it temporarily stretches supply. Plus you've got demand. That's expected to increase not just here in the U.S., but globally, because of a better outlook for the global economy.

Now, the price of oil, it has been modestly higher since the beginning of the year. You don't need me to tell you that. The good news is it has been relatively stable since the summer, Carol. You haven't seen those real crazy spikes that we've seen over the years. Carol?

COSTELLO: Alison Kosik reporting live from New York this morning.

Move over, guys. Danica Patrick's in the top spot. Patrick won the pole position for the Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to win a pole at any NASCAR top division race. She later spoke with CNN's Don Lemon, who asked her, you know, if she could comprehend that she made history.


PATRICK: I that I that understanding the scope of what that means and what that will end up meaning, or if any, is something that happens down the road. In the moment, it's about thinking about what I need to do for next Sunday and trying to make some more history.

I love that to go beyond racing in general, I mean, just to kind of break gender barriers, I feel that one of the coolest things is to be able to think that parents and their kids are having that conversation at home about it. And to -- I've heard stories about a kid, boy or girl, saying, "But Mommy, Daddy, that's a girl that's out there racing," and then they can have that conversation to say, "You can do anything you want to do, and gender doesn't matter. Your passion is what matters."

And that's cool.


COSTELLO: That is cool. Janet Guthrie was actually the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. She joins us now on the phone from Aspen, Colorado. Welcome.

JANET GUTHRIE, AUTO RACING LEGEND (via telephone); Well, good morning.

COSTELLO: Good morning. So Danica broke your previous record for qualifying by a female driver. Your feelings this morning?

GUTHRIE: Well, she is to be congratulated, of course. It was a very smooth run and certainly something that will keep her name in the history books for a very long time.

COSTELLO: Something that was kind of intriguing to me, Jeff Gordon -- and, of course, Danica Patrick beat him while she raced for the pole position -- Jeff Gordon congratulated Patrick and he was posing with two kids. One of them was his daughter, Ella, who's 5 years old. He pushed Ella to be in a picture solely with Danica Patrick because he said Ella never realized that she could be a race car even though her father is a race car driver.

GUTHRIE: I think that's one thing that Danica has done with her prominence in the media, is call more attention to that fact, and certainly this accomplishment will make that even greater.

But, yes, looking back 30 -- what is it? Thirty-six years ago now, when I became the first woman at Indianapolis and also at Daytona, it was something like this. It was the pictures were on the front pages of the newspapers, not the front pages of the sports section, and it was widely regarded at that time as marking a significant progress for women, not just in sport but in other venues. I used to get a lot of letters along those lines.

COSTELLO: Now, she's just got to win the race, huh?

GUTHRIE: Yes. Well, that would be -- that would be superb.

COSTELLO: That would be superb. Janet Guthrie, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

GUTHRIE: Thank you.

COSTELLO: You're welcome.

Sexual harassment, racism, and fraud -- serious problems uncovered by "USA Today" on a controversial military program meant to help troops interact with locals and war zones.


COSTELLO: Twenty minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories.

President Obama still in Florida after teeing off with Tiger Woods. The president enjoying some R&R at a resort in Palm City. Others who played gold with the president, including U.S. trade representative John Kirk, and Jim Crane, a major Democratic donor. Mr. Obama due back in Washington tonight.

Not only will Facebook probably not pay a penny in federal and state taxes for all of 2012, the social media giant expects a federal tax refund of -- are you ready -- $430 million. Wow.

Here's why. Facebook reported about $1 billion in pretax dollars last year but gets to deduct the stock options, which it relies on heavily to compensate executives. The tax break is completely legal. Facebook even included in its annual earnings report.

An Air Force One bomber jacket worn by JFK was a top seller of an auction of Kennedy family memorabilia. The leather jacket -- it's pretty cool, isn't it? It has the presidential patch on it. It fetched $629,000.

Other items included a birthday card from John-John to his dad and a marked up itinerary for the slain president's 1963 trip to Dallas. Relatives found the items at the home of one of JFK's special assistants.

A new report by "USA Today" is uncovering serious problems with a multimillion dollar Army program. Now, the program calls itself the "Human Terrain System". It's designed to help American troops better understand and interact with people in countries where they're stationed, you know, to win their hearts and minds. However, "USA Today" reports major problems with the program, including payroll fraud, sexual harassment, racism, unaccountable contractors, and inadequate government oversight.

Despite all of this, though, the Army wants the program to continue.

Tom Vanden Brook is "USA Today's" Pentagon reporter. He wrote the article.



COSTELLO: So good morning, and thank you so much for enlightening us on this issue. So, this program sends Americans to Iraq and Afghanistan to win hearts and minds. Tell us about sexual harassment, racism. Outline these problems for us.

VANDEN BROOK: Yes, these come in an army investigative report that we were -- we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. And the sexual harassment seemed pretty gross, frankly. It was a contractor at the training base who's making really untoward comments toward the women. Eventually, he was fired. That was documented.

As well as racism. There was a white soldier who was referring to a section of the program and saying it was a ghetto because it had black people in it. That soldier was disciplined. And --

COSTELLO: And yet some of the members of this group, with all these problems, were actually making more money than the secretary of defense?

VANDEN BROOK: That's right. And that maybe the most disturbing finding I think. It regards time sheet padding, and it was encouraged, apparently, according to the documents we found. These people were saying they routinely worked 84-hour weeks, billing for every hour of the day essentially except for those that they were sleeping.

And this was a systematic problem, and people were making $280,000 a year and as well getting six months of comp time so that, when they came home, they didn't have to work either.

COSTELLO: So how large was this program? How many people were employed?

VANDEN BROOK: Well, it's been hundreds over the years. It started during the hostilities in Iraq. And right now, there are about 70 folks involved in it in 20 teams.

COSTELLO: And you say the Army wants to carry on despite these allegations of sexual harassment and racism and the program not exactly working and people getting overpaid?

VANDEN BROOK: Right. The Army says that many of these problems have been addressed, that they've, for instance, fired the contractor who was charged with sexual harassment, disciplined the soldier, and they've advised supervisors on how to fill out time sheets properly. They also say that commanders want this sort of capability, and you could see why they would, if it helps them avoid antagonizing locals and helping them win hearts and minds and that sort of thing.

But as well, within this report we found -- many commanders found reports to be worthless. Some even found them counterproductive. One telling the investigator that these "Human Terrain Teams" actually frightened the Iraqis with whom he was working.

COSTELLO: It just defies belief. So you say the Army, even though it has those kinds of problems with the program, also -- I just don't understand why the Pentagon would want to like --

VANDEN BROOK: Right. I think the concept, if you can probably agree, makes sense. If you can figure out a way to, you know, not antagonize locals, help them out with health care, veterinary care, teach them to grow crops, it would be fine. I think it's the execution of the program that's been the problem.

The Army maintains the problems have been fixed, but a lot of folks that I talk to, including those who are involved in the program, maintain that's not the case.

COSTELLO: And your article in "USA Today" today and also online.

VANDEN BROOK: That's right.

COSTELLO: Tom Vanden Brook from "USA Today," thanks so much.

VANDEN BROOK: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: President Obama teed off with Tiger Woods this weekend, but you won't see any pictures of that. Should we have the right, though, to see Obama play golf with Tiger Woods? The talk-back question today.


COSTELLO: Now's your chance to talk back about the stories of the day. The question for you this morning: should we have the right to see the president play golf with Tiger Woods?

The Drudge Report labeled it the super secret spring break. Secret because we couldn't take photos of President Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods. Yes, that Tiger Woods, champion golfer and former serial adulterer. In fact, reporters were not allowed near the president all weekend long.

This as massive budget cuts kick in in just two weeks. And the president out of sight, not taking questions.

Ed Henry, president of the White House Correspondents Association, says they're frustrated. Quote, "There's a very simple but important principle, we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead. That would be transparency." So, what's the big deal? We had no problem getting photos of President Obama playing golf with the ever popular Bill Clinton or with White House Speaker John Boehner, back when they were talking grand bargain to avoid the fiscal cliff. Remember that? Is there a problem seeing America's number one family man, though, alongside Tiger?

Or as White House spokesman Josh Ernish says, is the president entitled to some much deserved down time with some friends? You know, in private.

Talk-back question today, should we have the right to see the president play golf with Tiger Woods?,, or tweet me @carolCNN.

Stories we're watching in THE NEWSROOM as well: country music star Mindy McCready has died. The 37-year-old was found at her Arkansas home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. McCready rose to fame in the mid-'90s, and more recently she struggled with addiction and mental illness.