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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Premeditated Murder Charge Against Pistorius; Funeral For Pistorius' Girlfriend; Adopted Russian Boy Dies; Freeing Alan Gross; Texas Abortion Lawsuit; NYC Laundromat Attack; Alec Baldwin Versus "New York Post" Photographer; Coach Wins Free Tuition For Student; Detroit Corruption Trial; NYC Anchorman Arrested; Fuel Leak Sparked Cruise Ship Fire; Midlife Crisis Made Her Do It

Aired February 19, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We begin with breaking news in the Oscar Pistorius murder case. Pistorius has released a statement about those premeditated murder charges that are now against him. Saying this, quote, "I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend."

That bail hearing is still going on as we speak. It is 2:30 in the afternoon in South Africa right now. The judge ruling so far that the premeditated murder charge, which is the most severe charge in South African law is going to stand.

That makes it very unlikely in fact that the Olympian who is now accused of killing his girlfriend will be given any bail. The judge was also saying that Pistorius can't keep breaking down and delaying court.

We heard like 30 minutes ago, Robyn Curnow who has been reporting from the courtroom that he was so overwrought and absolutely heaving and so upset that they've had to stop the proceedings several times to try to calm him down.

This is what he has been saying as the defense now lays out Oscar Pistorius' point of view of what happened that night. He is saying that he heard a noise in the bathroom at night. He said a sense of terror overwhelmed me. It was pitch dark.

He thought that Reeva, his girlfriend, was in bed with him. He did not have his legs on, he felt extremely vulnerable because of that he shouted to Reeva to call the police, and there was no response.

And he said he realized with the benefit of hindsight that she had gone into the bathroom. He says that he is not a flight risk and he had made no attempts to flee. So now we are getting a better sense of the difference between what the prosecution is alleging happened in this case and of course, what the defense is saying.

We are going to be chatting with Nkepile who is updating our reporting from there as it goes through the courtroom. She is at Reeva Steenkamp's funeral. Because, of course, the funeral is taking place at the very same time that the first part of the bail hearing was happening.

And, of course, the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp saying goodbye to her. Nkepile Mabuse is in Port Elizabeth for us this morning. Nkepile, update us on this part of the story.

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, as you can imagine, it's been a very, very difficult morning and an emotional morning for people who knew Reeva Steenkamp. Family and friends gathered here. Her body was cremated and then they had a ceremony for about 45 minutes.

Many people talking, describing her as a flawless character, quite a couple of people calling her an angel. Her brother Adam said there is a space missing inside the people who knew her that will never be filled again.

It sounds like she was an amazing person from people who knew her. Of course, the question on everybody's mind is why did she have to die so violently -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Nkepile Mabuse following this part of the story for us as we hear more about the bail hearing that is under way in South Africa as well. Thanks, Nkepile. Appreciate it.

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Something is off here.

O'BRIEN: Well, finally we hear the two different versions.

ABBY HUNSTMAN, HOST, "HUFF POST LIVE": How do you not look for her to make sure she wasn't there?

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Look, the news we're getting in, which is not insignificant news at all, is the case that Pistorius is going to make very specifically that he was in bed, that he heard a noise, that he thought she was still in bed and fired into the bathroom thinking there was an intruder there.

What his defense is obviously doing now is piecing together a case based on the evidence, which is out there and has been in the public, and it is very interesting to hear what they are coming up.

BLOW: But you reach for the gun, but you don't reach for your girlfriend?

HUNTSMAN: That's my question.

BLOW: There is an intruder in the house, sweetheart, please wake up. We have to get out of here, do something. Something doesn't quite jive.

O'BRIEN: We're in the middle of the bail hearing, right? So this is the first opportunity that we've had the prosecution lay out what their case will be and this is the first time we've really heard sort of how it went down, according to Oscar Pistorius. And so because of that, we do not know if in fact he reached over and tried to feel for his girlfriend or reach for the gun first or what. So now, that bail hearing is still happening, as we're on the air. It is 2:35 in South Africa. That bail hearing is underway. We're going to continue to monitor that. Robyn Curnow is in the hearing and she had been reporting for us on that story.

Also another big story we're talking about this morning is this growing tension now between the United States and Russian officials over the death of a little boy from West Texas. A little boy was adopted out of Russia.

His name is Max Shadow. It came just weeks after Russia passed a bill that banned Americans from adopting children from Russia effective next year. David Mattingly has the latest on this investigation.

Tell us about what happened to this little 3-year-old boy in West Texas? How does that relates to what Russian officials are saying today, David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, what happened to this little boy is under investigation. But almost all of the information that we're getting about this case so far is coming from the special human rights representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Constantine Dolgoff says this child was just a little over 3 years old, when he died on January 21st of this year, a Russian-born boy, adopted by American parents living in Texas.

In a statement, Dolgoff said I would like to draw your attention to another case of inhuman abuse of a Russian child by U.S. adoptive parents. He claims the child suffered injuries to his head and legs, as well as to his abdomen and his internal organs, drawing the conclusion that this child was hit.

Texas officials are looking into this, Texas Child Protective Services, the county sheriff and medical examiner at this point, the child's death has been described as suspicious. No arrests we're told.

But that could change, depending on what the autopsy reveals. We did reach out to the boy's adoptive parents. When we called, there was only this brief recorded message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this is a reporter or a news agency, we have no comment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: This case is heating up a very sensitive issue between the U.S. and Russia. You might remember back in 2010, the outrage that came up when an American woman actually put her adopted 7-year-old Russian son on a plane alone and sent him on a one-way flight back to Russia because of violent episodes the child had.

Russia recently imposed a ban on U.S. adoptions in Russia. This could affect hundreds of U.S. families. A situation is sure to get worse, Soledad, if this child's death in Texas proves to be a case of abuse.

O'BRIEN: All right, David Mattingly for us this morning. Thanks, David. Appreciate it.

I want to get right to Adam Pertman. He is the author of "Adaption Nation." He is the executive director as well of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. It's nice to have you with us.

So how will this case, as David has just laid it out, how will this affect this law, this Russian law that pretty much puts the kibosh on Russian adoptions down the road that you've been trying to overturn?

ADAM PERTMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EVAN B. DONALDSON ADOPTION INSTITUTE: Well, the answer is that this is going to be more of a political gain if you will than it is going to be a legal one because Russia has stopped adoptions.

So there may still be a handful of people waiting to see if their adoptions are finalized, but for adoptions per se from Russia. It's not likely to have an impact except Russia is now going to be able to say, see, we told you so.

O'BRIEN: Part of their "see, we told you so" seems to be that there had been, if you look at the number of fatalities from adopted children, the Russian fatalities are higher. There is a statistic back from 2007. So it's not the most current of 18 fatalities that they were looking into, 14 were Russian, two were Chinese and two Guatemalan. Why?

PERTMAN: Well, we don't know why. I don't think there are comprehensive statistics on the number of children adopted from Russia who have died. We think it's about 20 of the tens of thousands who have been adopted from that country. Any one of these is one too many.

And I want to stress that, but if you look at overall statistics of the number of children adopted, which is, again, tens of thousands, and the number of children who die in biological families and adoptive families, the percentage is really small. It doesn't excuse one of them, but we do have to keep it in perspective.

O'BRIEN: Russian officials have said that the Texas family is not cooperating. Should they be cooperating?

PERTMAN: Well, I don't know whether they are cooperating. I mean, they need to cooperate with Texas authorities. Texas authorities certainly have every right to investigate the death of a child and I assume they are doing so. I don't know -- I am not familiar enough with international law to say a Russian authority can investigate a death in Texas.

I don't think that happens a lot. But I think that when Texas authorities come up with whatever they discover, then certainly they will hand over that information to the Russians who will use it however they use it.

O'BRINE: Adam Pertman joining us this morning. It's nice to have you with us. We appreciate it. Thank you.

PERTMAN: You bet.

O'BRIEN: What a sad sorry.

HUNTSMAN: I think we have had issues with Russian adoptions for years. It was meant to happen eventually.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But this point is correct. Your data shows that, you know, these problems do tragic as they are occur intermittently, which really changes the political context not the level of abuse or anything like that.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely and that's the political context of what he's battling.

All right, John has got a look at some of other stories that are making news for us this morning.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. Seven members of Congress led by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy are in Cuba this morning. This is the largest American delegation to the country really in recent memory. They are trying to convince the Castro regime to release Alan Gross, an American contractor who was jailed in 2009 for bringing banned satellite equipment into Cuba as part of the State Department program to spread democracy. Cuba has long accused Gross of spying.

The parents of a pregnant 16-year-old Texas girl who allegedly tried to force their daughter to get an abortion have had a change of heart after she took them to court. They have given her permission to carry the baby and marry the father, 16-year-old Evan Madison. Madison spoke last night to CNN's Piers Morgan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EVAN MADISON, BABY'S FATHER: I knew it wasn't going to be easy at all, but I really didn't imagine this all happening, but I knew that some of her parents or many of her family would have a definitely a negative reaction. But I never intended on this happening. We were always determined to have the baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The girl claimed her mother threatened to slip her an abortion pill and took away her phone and car to pressure her into having an abortion.

Police have made an arrest in a brutal New York City Laundromat attack that was caught on camera. Investigators say the attacker assaulted the victim and his 6-year-old daughter then sprayed them both with maze. The 27-year-old Fernando Gonzalez of the Bronx is now facing assault charges. He apparently thought the victims had stolen his wife's laundry cart.

O'BRIEN: So he beats up a grown man and his 6-year-old daughter. People are just out of control. That is bizarre.

HUNTSMAN: When it comes to laundry, people do crazy things.

BLOW: It's the cart, right. Geez.

BERMAN: It's 42 minutes after the hour here. Meanwhile, actor Alec Baldwin and a "New York Post" photographer filed police compliance against each other, following a weekend confrontation outside Baldwin's New York apartment.

The photographer who is black claims that Baldwin used a racial slur and hurled other insults at him when he and a reporter approached the actor. Baldwin's rep claims that the claim is absolutely false. Controversy never seems to be too far away from Alec Baldwin.

O'BRIEN: The man is talked by reporters and cameramen all the time, right, so.

BLOW: He tweets about it too.

O'BRIEN: But they follow him around about the apartment.

BLOW: You don't have to wait for the news to come but Alec.

O'BRIEN: We showed you yesterday this incredible video of a coach sinking that half court shot, helping out a student with tuition in a very, very big way. Up next, we'll talk to the hero coach and the grateful student. They will join us, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. More on that incredible video we showed you before the commercial break. You remember this, the half court basketball shot and on the line was free tuition for a semester. He sinks it. It happened at Canada's Brandon University.

The student is Mason Kaluzniak and he is with the head coach, Gil Cheung, who is the guy who made that -- sunk that shot. It's nice to have you guys with us. Appreciate it. All right, Mason, let's start with you. You could have picked anybody to make the shot for you. Why did you go with the coach?

MASON KALUZNIAK, STUDENT WINS ONE SEMESTER FREE TUITION: Yes. I've been getting a lot of people asking me why I picked Gil here and I've kind of been getting razzed a little bit from some of the guys on the team that wanted to take the shot. I guess they've been practicing.

And at BU, we really only have a student body of about 3,000 people, so especially I know in our Phys Ed Department, we are tight knit with all our professors and coaches, when I went out there, really the only guy that I knew on the team very well at the time was Gil.

I never really thought that it was -- it was going to happen, so I figure I may pick a friend of mine. If he misses, he misses, and I can bug him a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Well, Coach, it doesn't sound like he has a lot of faith in you. I thought maybe he would miss anyway. I love the fact you took off the jacket, but you sank the shot in a shirt still buttons at the wrists and a tie.

GIL CHEUNG, MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH, BRANDON UNIVERSITY: Well, yes. The awkward thing, we still had a second half to play. I made eye contact with Mason, you better pick me. I took off the jacket, made the shot. The crazy thing was it was 5 minutes of warm up to start the second half. The other coaches came out, what did we miss? Shirt is untucked and doing the human airplane. So it was a great night for our program, university and for Mason as well.

BERMAN: Looked like you knew what you were doing there. I mean, honestly how often do you practice that shot? Because it looks like it was not the first time you tried that?

CHEUNG: It's great, because I played at Brandon University for four years. I graduated from there. Every day at the end of practice or shoot around, I never shoot it, but for our meal money, extra meal money for our players and athletes, we'll take a shot from half court, you make it, you get $10 extra meal money.

So I usually stand and watch and hope they don't make it. I rarely ever shoot them, so it was -- it was weird. The thing is, when I shot it, I don't want to sound like that guy, but about ten feet since the ball left my hand.

It was good all the way. And I kind of turn around and start running away, and try not to let guys catch me. But like I said, the tough part was being a coach the second half.

O'BRIEN: So now what happened? Mason, you were playing for tuition. So how much tuition did you win? It's for a semester, right? I imagine your mom and dad must be pretty happy about that?

KALUZNIAK: Yes, for sure. I'm not too sure on what the exact figures are. I don't know what I will get back my way.

O'BRIEN: Your mom and dad do -- the dime.

KALUZNIAK: What's that?

O'BRIEN: I was saying that your mom and dad know exactly how much they've been paying for your tuition for the semester.

KALUZNIAK: Yes, no doubt.

O'BRIEN: That's really exciting. So what happens now? You go on to finish up your degree, right, in Phys Ed and then more college. What does the future look like? You get to try again next semester to pay for your tuition?

KALUZNIAK: I will pick Gil again, that's for sure. I don't know what happens. The basketball season is over. The guys are done, so, yes. I mean, one free semester, and all the buzz that's happened after it, that's good enough for me.

O'BRIEN: I cannot stop watching this video. We keep rolling it while you are talking. It's been so much fun to watch. Mason and Gil, congratulations. Gil, you are now the guy tapped every semester to sink the shot for every student.

CHEUNG: No pressure.

O'BRIEN: It's nice to have you, guys. Congratulations.

KALUZNIAK: Thank you.

CHEUNG: Thanks.

BLOW: I used to make those shot all the time.

O'BRIEN: You did not.

HUNTSMAN: I saw it on TV, I swear it was Berman, John Berman.

BROWNSTEIN: What he said, it looked good right out of his hands.

O'BRIEN: It did.

BROWNSTEIN: Nothing but net.

O'BRIEN: And then the airplane. That was awesome.

Ahead this morning, we'll talk about the Coast Guard, what they know about what caused that fire on the nightmare Carnival cruise. We got details of that coming up.

And we continue to follow this bail hearing for Oscar Pistorius. He's in court right now, the charges have been upgraded, we'll tell you what he says happened the night that his girlfriend was shot and killed. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Quick look at some of the top news this morning, jury deliberations begin today in the corruption trial of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Prosecutors have accused the former mayor, his father and a city contractor of turning the office into, quote, "Kilpatrick Incorporated" allegedly extorting bribes from contractors wanting to get or keep city contracts.

New York City news anchor Rob Morrison will appear in a Connecticut courtroom today to face domestic charges. Morrison an anchor at WCBS TV was arrested early Sunday morning at his home in Darien, Connecticut after allegedly choking his wife, CBS business anchor, Ashley Morrison.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the engine fire that crippled the Carnival cruise ship "Triumph" was caused by a leak in a fuel oil return line. The leaking oil hit a hot surface and ignited the fire in one of the ship's two engine rooms. There is no indication that this blaze was set intentionally.

So it turns out that Michelle Obama's much talked about new haircut, the bangs, was the result of a mid-life crisis on her 49th birthday. The first lady telling talk show host, Rachel Ray, that she can't buy a sports car. She won't be allowed to bungee bump so instead she got bangs.

O'BRIEN: A good fashion choice.

HUNTSMAN: And looks just like you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on our next hour, we're going to be talking about what happens in this bail hearing for Oscar Pistorius, speaking out about those accusations that he planned to kill his girlfriend, the premeditated murder charges. We'll take you live to South Africa for the latest on what he has been telling the court.

Also hacker headquarters? That building right there, there are some new reports say secret Chinese military hackers are carrying out attacks against the United States from that building there in Shanghai. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We begin with breaking news in the Oscar Pistorius murder case. The court has just adjourned for the day, some big developments to fill you in on this morning. No word, though, on whether or not he will get bail.

They've continued that bail hearing until tomorrow, and he reveals what happened the night that he shot and killed his girlfriend. The judge also has been reprimanding Oscar Pistorius for his behavior in the court as he falls apart. All that plus his girlfriend is laid to rest, we have live team coverage on the story for you straight ahead.

Then a startling new report suggests that China is conducting cyber warfare against the United States from this Shanghai office building. We'll have details on that straight ahead.

BERMAN: And more developing news, CNN learning that eight masked thieves made off with $50 million worth of diamonds at a Brussels airport. Sounds fishy, right?

Also four babies beating the odds to be born as two sets of identical twins. Coming up, we will meet those lucky parents live.

O'BRIEN: It's Tuesday, February 19th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome back, everybody. We begin with breaking news in the Oscar Pistorius murder case. Court has just adjourned for the day. They have not made a decision though on bail for Oscar Pistorius. They'll reconvene tomorrow morning our time, 9:00 in the morning in South Africa. The former Olympian faces upgraded charges of premeditated murder and he released a statement to the court saying this, "I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend." Some new pictures this morning of Pistorius in court. He was sobbing in the court --