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Pistorius Lead Investigator Facing Criminal Charges; Severe Weather Alert; Cruise Passengers Become Plaintiffs; 911 Calls Released in California Shooting Spree

Aired February 21, 2013 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, a bombshell in the Oscar Pistorius case. As we wait for ruling on bail, we've now learned the Olympic star is not the only one in the courtroom facing serious criminal charges.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A severe weather alert this morning. A winter storm dumping on 18 states. It's affecting about 30 million people.

ROMANS: Egged on by mom. A shocking incident between two teen girls caught on camera begging the question what were they thinking?

SAMBOLIN: You're going to hate this one when you see it.

All right. Check your cereal bowl. Kellogg's recalling thousands of boxes this morning. Something could be in there that definitely should not be in there.

ROMANS: That's what I call a tease. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Thursday morning. Thirty- one minutes past the hour.

Court is back in session right now as we wait to find out if Olympic icon, Oscar Pistorius, will be granted bail despite a charge of premeditated murder against him. It was adjourned a bit earlier as officials look for the lead investigator in a case. That's because of big developments overnight about him.

Hilton Botha is now facing reinstated attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus carrying seven people. This was back in 2009 while he was allegedly under the influence of alcohol at the time. At stake for Pistorius if, he doesn't get bail, possibly months in prison before a full trial gets underway.

Nkpeli Mabuse is live for us with all of the details this morning. I want to start with this lead investigator because this is a little confusing. As we understand it, there were murder charges against him. They were dropped and then reinstated on Wednesday. Could you walk us through all of this? NKPELI MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's our understanding that those were seven counts of attempted murder charges relating to a case in 2009 where he was allegedly driving drunk with other cops, and they shot at a mini bus taxi, and they were charged in 2009. But those charges were dropped but then reinstated, we're told, by the national prosecuting authority.

We also understand that this was a big surprise for the prosecution authority who, of course, very upset right now because one of their main witnesses' credibility is now in question, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: What's happening right now? Is he being questioned at this moment?

MABUSE: More drama in court this morning as the magistrate actually called this investigating officer back on the stand. He thought he was done yesterday. But I think that what the magistrate is doing is trying to get more information so that he can make a decision on whether to grant Oscar Pistorius bail or not.

And yesterday, the investigating officer presented testimony that Oscar Pistorius has a home in Italy. The defense refuted that. They said Oscar Pistorius does not have a home in Italy to escape to. Today, the prosecution producing a magazine, a South African magazine where Oscar Pistorius told the reporter that he has a house in Italy.

So, obviously, the magistrate wanting to get more and more information that will equip him to make the right decision on whether to give Oscar Pistorius bail or not. The prosecution is arguing that he is a flight risk, and he should not be granted bail, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: So, court has adjourned for the time being. When are they expected to go back into session and will we get an answer on bail today?

MABUSE: You know, your guess is as good as mine. It seems like this magistrate wants really to be thoroughly confident of his decision, get as much information as possible. He's asking this investigating officer more questions about what evidence he was able to obtain. Why there seems to be no urgency?

He has already said from the state to obtain all of this information. You know, that would give him grounds to make a decision on bail or not. So, we're expecting that arguments will end today and we were expecting a decision today. But I don't know if that's going to happen, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yeah, I know. This latest monkey wrench, who knows? But we're going to continue to check in with you. Nkepile Mabuse live for us. Thank you very much.

And we're hearing from Reeva Steenkamp's family this morning, they say all they want is the truth. Her cousin talked exclusively with Piers Morgan last night about the moment that she heard the news that Reeva was dead.


KIM MARTIN, COUSIN: The last thing I expected and is still to me to this day is surreal. We turned around in this bumper to bumper traffic. We couldn't even get out. We turned around and we drove. And I just remember thinking the whole time, this is no way. This is not -- somebody is playing a joke and the radio guy is going to come on and say that this is a big joke.


SAMBOLIN: And coming up at 6:30 Eastern, we'll break down this morning's development at the Pistorius bail hearing with CNN legal contributor, Paul Callan.

ROMANS: A big development about passengers onboard that nightmare Carnival cruise. They have filed a class action lawsuit against Carnival. The suit claims Carnival knew the cruise liner "Triumph" could have engine problems because it had similar issues before. They also maintain the unsanitary conditions on that crippled ship threatened the health of everyone onboard.

Rene Marsh joins us live from Washington with more. And it's so interesting, Rene, because when you sign that ticket, when you buy that ticket, there are all kinds of legal disclaimers that appear at least to take away your ability to file a class action suit.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Christine, but you know what? It's not stopping this class action lawsuit. This is the 15-page class action lawsuit. They filed it yesterday. It says that all 3,000 passengers who were trapped on the ship with no power for days could be part of this suit.

Now, lawyers for the passengers are arguing that Carnival should have known that the vessel "Triumph" was likely to experience mechanical or engine issues. Why? Because there were two mechanical problems on the ship in January. They also say that the ship could have been towed to a closer port.

They're arguing that passengers' emotional distress have resulted in physical issues like sickness, nausea, headaches, nightmares. I asked a maritime attorney what are the chances that these passengers will get any compensation?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that the talking about those passengers who have not suffered a personal injury or some specific physical illness, the likelihood of recovery is going to be much more difficult.


MARSH: All right. Well, the cruise tickets, as you mentioned, Christine, they say that the passengers cannot file a class action lawsuit, but, the suit calls that that be voided essentially. Now, they haven't specified exactly how much they're suing for, but they want all damages that are legally allowed plus punitive damages. Carnival's reaction, well, they're saying that they won't comment on pending litigation.

The cruise line already offered to pay every passenger $500, refund for the cost of the cruise that they took, plus, they're offering them a free cruise. But the folks in this class action suit said that's not enough.

ROMANS: All right. Rene, we'll continue to watch this case. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. We're keeping an eye on a powerful winter storm system that is now pounding, pounding the Central Plains and the Midwest right now. Several inches of snow and sleet along with howling winds are already being felt across the region. The National Weather Service predicts more than a foot of snow in parts of Kansas.

Thirty million people and 18 states are in the path of the severe weather system that stretches from the Dakotas to Texas. Jennifer Delgado is tracking this really crazy system for us. What can you tell us?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi there, guys. You're right. We are talking about a huge storm system. We are calling this our triple threat, because we're talking about snow, ice, as well as severe storms possible down towards areas including Texas as well as into Louisiana and showing you on the radar right now, look at that lightning out there. And we're also seeing that lightning develop through parts of Kansas. A nice storm developing.

It looks like right along Western Texas. Those could become stronger as we go later into the afternoon. But look at all the snow that's coming down through parts of Kansas. Wichita where we have a live reporter and some of these locations, we're seeing two inches per hour for snowfall rate. That is incredible. And then, the wintry mix as well as the ice where we're fearing for the potential for downed power lines to come.

This is going to last throughout the day. So, make sure you're being careful out on those roadways. Now, we also talked about the snow. We're talking 12 to 18 inches. But let me show you some snow coming out of Arizona. And they typically, they don't see snow like this. This video is actually coming from the world golf championship.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness!

DELGADO: Did you see that? It was kind of a lapse how it started off nice, and then, it went to end of play. Incredible video. That's north of Tucson.

ROMANS: All of those Midwestern snow birds who thought they were going to escape February in Iowa found February in Arizona.

SAMBOLIN: Here's the good news. A lot of the folks who have never experienced snow before are loving every single minute of it. DELGADO: That's right. First time.

SAMBOLIN: There's always a little bit of sunshine. Thank you.

DELGADO: you're welcome.

ROMANS: All right. Be careful with the cereal you're eating this morning. Kellogg's is recalling three sizes of special case cereal (ph) with red berries. There may be glass fragments inside these boxes of cereal. It's the 11 ounce, 22 ounce, and 37 ounce packages sold at retailers across the country

SAMBOLIN: I have this.

ROMANS: There have been no reports of injury, Zoraida, but consumers are advised to contact Kellog for a replacement coupon.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to be calling home.

All right. Forty minutes past the hour. New York City police are investigating a shocking incident involving two children. This video is disturbing. It is really difficult to watch, but we need to share this with you.

Two little girls are being egged on by adults to fight. Incredibly, the adults can actually be heard on this video urging the children to slap and punch each other. The NYPD is in the process of trying to identify the adults that are involved in this. That's awful.

ROMANS: Vice president is on the road today drumming up support for the administration's gun control proposals. Joe Biden will take part at a conference at Western Connecticut State University. That's just ten miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

SAMBOLIN: Four years ago, it was all about her arms.


SAMBOLIN: Now, it's all about her bangs. Take a look at the new official White House portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. Everyone -- everyone is talking about her hair. The First Lady debuted the new style last month, just in time for her husband's inauguration. She said it was part of her midlife crisis. Instead of bungee jumping, she got bangs.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Chaos and confusion captured over the phone as a deadly incident unfolds.


911 DISPATCHER: 911. What's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think somebody is shot.


SAMBOLIN: So disturbing. More on this and the other 911 calls in a violent California shooting spree.

ROMANS: Plus, the truth about Mars, the Red Planet. Why we might need to rethink that nickname?


ROMANS: New development this morning in a murder and carjacking spree that terrified motorists in Southern California. Police in Orange County released frantic 911 calls that were made while this incident was unfolding early Tuesday morning. Three people were shot to death before the gunman took his own life.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has the story.


911 DISPATCHER: 911, what's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think somebody is shot.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mother of 20- year-old Ali Sayed (ph) moments after police say he shot Courtney Ayoki (ph) in his parent's Orange County home.

911 DISPATCHER: Take a deep breath and tell me what's going on, OK?


911 DISPATCHER: Explain to me what's going on, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't talk. Please come.

MARQUEZ: 4:45 a.m., the beginning of yet another horrifying shooting spree. About 25 minutes after the first desperate 911 call, police say, Sayed tried to steal a Cadillac, firing at the driver who fled. Minutes later, Sayed carjacked a truck telling the driver "I killed somebody. Today is my last day. I don't want to hurt you."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a rifle in his hands, and he's pointing it at a guy in a pickup.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): After carjacking that truck, police say Sayed came to this freeway, the 5 and the interchange with the 55 where he got out of his car, pulled out a shotgun, and began shooting at random cars, literally, people on their way to work.

(voice-over): No one was killed there, but around 5:20 a.m., police say, Sayed carjacked a BMW stopped at an off ramp. He forced Melvin Lee Edwards (ph) from the car, marched him to the side of the road and in front of on lookers executed the 69-year-old businessman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's shot right here on the grass. MARQUEZ: At 5:35, he stops at a construction site killing 26-year-old Jeremy Lewis (ph). He wounded a co-worker before fleeing. At 5:52 a.m., just over an hour after it all began, police say, Sayed shot and killed himself while his car was still moving. Police say there are no signs Sayed had mental health issues. They've taken his computers as evidence and hope to discover what prompted this deadly rage.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-seven minutes past the hour.

Drew Peterson expected to find out today how long he will be in prison. The ex-cop from Illinois was found guilty last year of killing his third wife. Peterson's defense team is asking for a new trial claiming his former lead attorney made damaging decisions during that trial. Many legal experts think the judge will deny the request and hand down the sentence. Peterson faces up to 60 years in prison.

ROMANS: We call mars the Red Planet, but it might be time to rethink that nickname. NASA's curiosity rover drilled into Martian rock and the sample of dust that came out is gray. And scientists will analyze it to see if this evidence may be of life supporting compounds on the gray red planet.


SAMBOLIN: And, as an Oscar nominee who's gotten worldwide recognition was apparently not recognized at the airport. One filmmaker's story coming up.

ROMANS: Plus, the sports icon that left quite an impression on the leader of the free world.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-one minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date.

Final arguments in the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing are now under way. So, that means we could find out any minute if he will be granted bail. The defense angling for a lesser charge now saying there's not enough evidence for murder. The final arguments come after both sides squabbled over the Italian house that prosecutors say Pistorius owns.

Prosecutors offered up a magazine interview where Pistorius apparently does discuss it. They're trying to prove that he is a flight risk.

Meantime, we have learned this morning that lead investigator, Hilton Bota (ph), who testified yesterday now faces reinstated attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus carrying seven people. That was back in 2009.

ROMANS: Bizarre. All right. An about-face by Florida Governor Rick Scott. He is now agreeing to allow his state to accept expanded Medicare coverage, a key provision in President Obama's new health care law. He's been threatening to reject it. Scott becomes the seventh Republican governor to sign on to the plan.

SAMBOLIN: And a beer merger worth billions is on hold this morning. A federal judge in Washington is giving Anheuser-Busch more time to work out its plans to take over Grupo Modelo. That is a Mexican company that makes Corona. The justice department said the deal could make your beer cost more money.

ROMANS: Lance Armstrong is apparently done talking. He's refusing to cooperate with U.S. anti-doping agency's investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs in cycling. USASA was hoping he'd provide them with the names of coaches or doctors who helped him and his Tour de France winning team's illegally dope.

SAMBOLIN: So, we heard from Tiger gushing over President Obama's golf game when they played together on Sunday. No surprise there, right? So, this morning, we're hearing from the president about his experience. While Tiger complimented the president's short game, Mr. Obama even more impressed with the golf champion.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He plays a different game than I do. He's on another planet.

REPORTER: Is he more nervous because he's playing with you or are you more nervous because you're playing with Tiger Woods?

OBAMA: You know, I don't think he was nervous. You know, he knew that I wasn't a big threat to his world ranking.


OBAMA: And I knew that I better keep my day job.



SAMBOLIN: Isn't Tiger ranked second in the world? So, the White House is still fielding complaints from the media for barring reporters and photographers from that golf outing.

ROMANS: The White House correspondents are very mad.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: Coming up, how old is too old for Facebook? One great grandmother's digital dilemma next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: And welcome back to EARLY START this morning. Trending on the Web, Margarine Joseph (ph) of Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, doesn't want to lie about her age. Facebook is forcing her to lie. Margarine marring let is 104 years old. She will turn 105 in April, but Facebook's settings won't allow her to enter 1908 as her birth year, so she's been stuck on 99 years old ever since her daughter helped her set up a profile a few years ago.

The family, apparently, has been sending messages to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to get this problem corrected. He's busy running a company. No response so far.

SAMBOLIN: He should respond to this, and he should change it. I love this story.

Now, to the best of late night. David Letterman kicks us off.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Somebody came up to me and they would say, Dave, how would you describe the Academy Awards, I would say, I would think for a moment and I would say, it's like a Carnival cruise --


LETTERMAN: -- with speeches. That's how I would describe it.

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Best actor nominee, Bradley Cooper, said his date to the Oscars will be his mother. Isn't that nice? Yes, you'll recognize her. She'll be the only woman there that doesn't want to sleep with Bradley Cooper.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Gas is so expensive, Lindsay Lohan can't afford to drive anymore. She needs three friends to push her car into another car.



LENO: Gas is now more valuable than a working toilet on a Carnival cruise. That's how expensive --


ROMANS: All right. EARLY START continues right now.