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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Will Pistorius Get Bail?; 911 Calls Released in Murder Spree; Disturbing Incident Caught on Video; 30 Million in Path of Winter Storm; The Red Planet: Not So Red

Aired February 21, 2013 - 06:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now:

The defense for Oscar Pistorius arguing for a lesser charge as we await a ruling on bail just moments away now.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A severe weather alert this morning, a winter storm dumping on 18 states affecting some 30 million people.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think somebody is shot.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Chaos and confusion captured over the phone in the first moments of a deadly California shooting spree. The 911 calls now released.

ROMANS: And egged on to fight by mom? A shocking incident between two young girls caught on camera. Begging the question: what were the adults there thinking?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans, in for John Berman this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Thursday morning, 6:30. So, let's get started here.

We have final arguments in the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing. It's happening right now. And we should know really soon if the Olympic icon will be granted bail while awaiting trial for premeditated murder. And this follows days of testimony that revealed glaring inconsistencies both in the defense and the prosecution's cases.

And there's stunning new information this morning about the lead detective in the case. He's now facing reinstated charges of attempted murder himself. Just outrageous.

Paul Callan is a CNN legal contributor. He's also a criminal defense attorney and former New York City homicide prosecutor. Thanks for being here with us.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: So let's start with this lead investigator Botha. Apparently, he is facing reinstated charges of murder and this apparently was reinstated on Wednesday. How does this affect this case?

CALLAN: Well, this is a stunning and shocking development. Here he is, he's the lead investigator of a homicide case involving the most famous figure in South Africa and they assign a guy who's under attempted murder investigation as the person to gather the evidence. It's going to totally destroy his credibility, his believability on the witness stand when he's cross-examined. So, I think it's a really, really great blow to the prosecution.

SAMBOLIN: Well, the first thing that happened this morning when they reconvened court was that the magistrate asked him to come back. He didn't deal with the issue of, you know, this murder charge against him. But what he did do was ask, why did you not order the cell phone records of Reeva Steenkamp? Why do we not know if she sent text messages out during that critical time period? Why is the magistrate doing that?

CALLAN: Well, I think the magistrate is analyzing the evidence in a careful way, the way he is supposed to. And while on the surface this looks like a strong case against Pistorius -- I mean, he shoots his girlfriend in the bathroom three times, firing the weapon four times, and then comes up with this story I thought I was shooting a burglar -- it's a circumstantial evidence case, because Reeva is dead. The only person left is Pistorius to tell the story. So you need the physical evidence to back up the claim that this was a reckless homicide or intentional homicide.

So, you want text messages. You want cell phone records. You want good forensics, blood analysis, fingerprints, good autopsy reports. You want all of this collateral evidence to build your circumstantial case, and that's what the magistrate is going after.

And you know something? He's not finding it. He's finding sloppy police work done by a chief investigator under indictment for attempted murder. A shocking development.

SAMBOLIN: Well, the magistrate did say that he wasn't aware that those charges were actually pending. He said I thought that they were gone. So, in his defense I need to say that.

So let's deal with some of these tweets that Robyn Curnow -- we have a reporter inside. And she says that the defense is saying, listen, if this was premeditated murder, if he wanted to kill her, he could have killed her while she was in bed. Why did he choose to kill her in the bathroom? How do you respond to that?

CALLAN: As a prosecutor, my answer would be you form the intent to kill somebody sometimes rather suddenly. And prosecutors here have said he formed the intent to kill her when he reached under the bed. And, by the way, he had to walk by the bed in which she was supposedly sleeping on this hot summer night in South Africa. Is he going to miss, you know, one of the most spectacularly beautiful models in South Africa lightly covered on his bed as he walks toward the bathroom if she's missing? He says he thought she was still there.

Secondly, I think --

SAMBOLIN: They did say it's pitch black.

CALLAN: Well, it's pitch black. I just kind of doubt that she would be invisible in that room.

But in any event, if you think there's a burglar in the house and there's somebody who's going to attack your loved one, wouldn't you at least shake her on the shoulder and say, "Honey, I hear a noise, I'm going to check it out in the bathroom, call the police"? Wouldn't you warn her so she would be safe? No indication that that happens.

Instead, he walks into the bathroom and supposedly yells something out. She presumably did not respond and then he opens fire through the bathroom door.

Very, very shaky story to begin with I think. So, there are answers to these defense allegations that this was an accident.

SAMBOLIN: Well, let's not forget this is a bail hearing, right, not a trial. So really that's what's at stake here, whether or not he will get bail. Now, the charge was upgraded to premeditated murder. And one of the things that the prosecutors are saying is this is a flight risk.

So how do you think given all of the evidence that has resulted today alone, how will that affect whether or not he gets bail?

CALLAN: I think he's making a stronger case today for bail than was indicated earlier in the week. If it's a premeditated murder case, in other words, a planned murder, he's facing a minimum of 25 years in prison and possibly life in prison. If this gets reduced to what we call a reckless homicide in the United States, it would be a manslaughter, accidentally killing somebody by acting in a reckless way and certainly firing four times through a door, not knowing who's behind the door, is recklessly criminal.

But you're not facing that kind of jail time so he's got a greater argument that he deserves bail. In fact, he's so well known internationally, it's kind of hard to believe that he could hide someplace and not be found.

SAMBOLIN: This is just incredible, incredible developments. Paul Callan, really nice to have you. We really appreciate your time.

CALLAN: Thanks, Zoraida.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM MARTIN, COUSIN: The last thing I expected and to me to this day it's surreal. I mean, we turned around in this bumper-to-bumper traffic. We turned and we drove and thinking the whole time there's no way, this is not -- somebody is playing a joke and they're going to -- the radio guy is going to come on and say that this is a big joke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: It's so difficult to hear from them, right, Christine?

ROMANS: It really is. It really is.

All right. New developments this morning, Zoraida, giving us an inside look at a murder and carjacking spree that terrified motorists in southern California. Police in Orange County have 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.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

911 OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?

CALLER: Yes. I think somebody is shot.

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

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

CALLER: Please come.

911 OPERATOR: Explain to me what's going on, please?

CALLER: I can't talk. Please come.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Four-forty-five a.m., the beginning of yet another horrifying shooting spree. About 25 minutes after the first desperate 911 call, police say, Syed tried to steal a Cadillac, firing at the driver who fled.

Minutes later, Syed carjacked a truck, telling the driver, "I killed somebody, today is my last day. I don't want to hurt you."

CALLER: 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, Syed came to this freeway, the 5, and the interchange with the 55 where he got out of his car, pulled out his 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, Syed carjacked a BMW stuffed at an off-ramp. He forced Melvin Lee Edwards from the car, marched him to the side of the road, and in front of onlookers, executed the 69-year-old businessman.

CALLER: He's shot right here on the grass.

MARQUEZ: At 5:35 he stops at a construction site, killing 26-year-old Jeremy Lewis. He wounded a co-worker before fleeing.

At 5:52 a.m., just over an hour after it all began, police say, Syed shot and killed himself while his car was still moving. Police say there are no signs Syed had mental health issues. They have taken his computers as evidence and hope to discover what prompted this deadly rage.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Miguel.

Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. The vice president is on the road today drumming up support for the administration's gun control proposals. Joe Biden will take part in a conference at Western Connecticut State University. That's just 10 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

ROMANS: So you knew this was coming. People aboard last week's nightmare cruise are now plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Carnival. An Oklahoma couple filed the suit on behalf of the other passengers. They claim Carnival knew the cruise liner Triumph could have engine problems because it had similar issues before. They also say those unsanitary conditions on the crippled ship threatened the health of everyone on board.

SAMBOLIN: And we are checking the stories trending on CNN this morning.

A shocking incident here in New York City involving two children. I have to tell you, warn you that this is disturbing video. It's very difficult to watch. It's two little girls being urged by adults to fight.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

SAMBOLIN: You hear that? Incredibly, you're hearing it but they're in the background urging the children to actually slap and punch each other. The New York Police Department is trying to identify the adults involved.

ROMANS: An Oscar nominated Palestinian filmmaker arriving in Los Angeles for Sunday's ceremony was detained along with his family by immigration officials who questioned their Oscar invite. Emad Burnat said he was held for about an hour before they released him. His film, "Five Broken Cameras" is up for best documentary feature. He says his family's detention was an unpleasant experience but the kind Palestinians experience every day in the West Bank.

SAMBOLIN: And Sony unveiling its PlayStation 4 in New York. We hear it's pretty amazing stuff. The hottest features: social network integration, streaming capability and a supercharged processor which will make for some impressive high-definition graphics.

So far, videogame bloggers seem excited.

ROMANS: All right. Check your cereal bowl. Coming up, Kellogg's recalls thousands of boxes this morning. Something could be in there and they're not little red berries like they're supposed to be.

SAMBOLIN: And Marco Rubio still getting ribbed about that water break during that State of the Union response. Watch a world leader get in on the fun when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to "STARTING POINT". Soledad O'Brien joins us now.

SAMBOLIN: We're on EARLY START.

ROMANS: Did I say that?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": I have gained 15 minutes on my show today.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, you have.

ROMANS: It's going to be a long day. That's all I got to say.

O'BRIEN: Go ahead. Tell me what's on "STARTING POINT" this morning.

ROMANS: There's so much news going on, what's going on.

O'BRIEN: We're going to follow the final arguments that are under way in the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing. We'll tell you what we're learning about Reeva Steenkamp's final moments and some pretty shocking information about this lead investigator who's been testifying against Pistorius. He himself now faces seven counts of attempted murder in a prior case. We'll give you the details on that. This case is obviously now sensational, not only in South Africa but here as well.

Plus, American Alan Gross has been held in Cuba now for 1,177 days, one of the largest Congressional delegations has gone to Cuba to visit with him, try to get him free. We're going to talk with a member of that trip. Congressman Jim McGovern is going to join us and tell us exactly if they were able to make any progress and why Cuba will not release Gross. Then, we're going to talk Oscars, obviously, on Sunday. So, who's going to take home the statue. Octavia Spencer, you'll remember, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress last year. She's going to join us live, handicap the race for us.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, very cool.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Yes. She's fantastic. Looking forward to that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Soledad. It will be nice to meet her.

ROMANS: All right. Much of the country under a severe weather warning this morning.

Thirty million people are in the path of a powerful winter storm that's dropping ice, snow, sleet across the states in the Central Plains and Midwest. This system, you guys, is huge. It's 800,000 square miles. That's over 18 states. The National Weather Service predicts up to 18 inches of snow in Kansas alone today.

SAMBOLIN: Listen up if you're having breakfast, specifically Kellogg. They are recalling three sizes of its Special K cereal with red berries. Why? Because there may be glass fragments inside that box. The 11-ounce, 22-ounce and 37-ounce packages were sold at retailers across the country. There have been no reports of any injuries, but consumers are advised to contact Kellogg for a replacement coupon and to look inside your cereal box.

ROMANS: Yes. Be careful. All right. Some are calling it Watergate 2. We've also heard Zero Dark Thirsty to describe Senator Marco Rubio's now infamous water bottle grab during the Republican response to the president's State of the Union. Now, the incident is getting international attention. Check out this picture of Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Florida Republican at a meeting in Israel poking fun at the incident, I would say.

SAMBOLIN: That's nice. He's gotten a lot of mileage out of that moment, doesn't he?

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, what did President Obama think about his round of golf with Tiger Woods last weekend? Well, the commander in chief and the four-time Masters champion teed it up Sunday in Florida. Tiger thought it was pretty cool and praised the president's short game. President Obama, a little bit more impressed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(LAUGHTER)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: If I'm not mistaken, that's a number two world ranking, Mr. President. The White House is still fielding complaints from the media for barring reporters and photographers from the president's golf outing.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, the truth about mars, the Red Planet. Why we might need to rethink that nickname?

SAMBOLIN: And the boys of summer stuck in winter. Does this look like spring training to you? The Bleacher Report on deck right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Oscar Pistorius may be minutes away from a decision on bail as he fights a charge of premeditated murder against him. Final arguments are under way right now, and the defense is asking for a lesser charge than murder. They say if Pistorius wanted to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, he could have done it in the bedroom, not in the bathroom.

The other new bombshell, the lead investigator, Hilton Botha, faces reinstated attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus. This was back in 2009.

ROMANS: All right. Drew Peterson expected to find out today how long he'll 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. The defense team claims that, you know, his former lead attorney made damaging decisions during the trial. The former police officer faces up to 60 years in prison.

And forget the nickname the Red Planet. A new sample from NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars produced a sample of gray dust. Scientists are going to analyze this now to see if there's any evidence of life- supporting compounds there.

SAMBOLIN: We can't call it the Gray Planet. We're used to the Red Planet.

Fifty-two minutes past the hour. The winter weather out west was so bad that a PGA tour event in Arizona had to be postponed because of snow. ROMANS: I know. Joe Carter has details in this morning's Bleacher Report. I mean, gosh, you go to Arizona to, you know, get away from the snow.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes. You're supposed to bring your sun tan lotion, not your winter coat. Basically, it was 70 and sunny one day, which of course is ideal weather for golf. Twenty-four hours later, 32 and snowy. It was more like football weather. The opening round of the world golf classic went from this to that. Two inches of snow covering the desert.

Isn't that weird to see? This course is about 30 minutes north of Tucson, Arizona. The first round of that tournament postponed for later today. They cannot get on the course today, though, guys until all that snow melts. Now, this is a shot from Scottsdale, Arizona, just south of there. This is Salt River field where the Arizona Diamondbacks hold spring training practices and games.

I mean come on, there's no snowing in baseball. But conditions will improve today. It's expected to be 58 and sunny.

Well, plenty of emotions at the Staples Center last night. It was the first home game since owner Jerry Buss passed away. Fans signed a giant card for Buss and their family. They paid tribute to him by leaving his seat in the owner's box empty. Kobe Bryant, before the game, addressed the crowd calling Jerry the greatest owner in sports. Of course, he won 10 championships in 34 years.

The team got a good game from Dwight Howard. The Lakers went out and delivered a big win over the Boston Celtics, which is a pretty perfect outcome for the Lakers considering it's a rivalry that Jerry Buss helped build.

Well, Andrew Del Piero played center on LSU's basketball team. Three years ago, he did not. He was a freshman with a scholarship to play tuba in a school band. How did he go from a band member to a division I basketball player? At 7'3" tall, he said he couldn't go anywhere on campus without somebody asking him why he wasn't on the basketball team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW DEL PIERO, LSU BASKETBALL PLAYER: Yes. People on the side of the street like, oh, that guy needs to go try out for the basketball team. What's he doing in the band? You know, all that kind of stuff. Yes, game days were just packed and stuff like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: All right. For all your entertaining sports news, of course, you can go to BleacherReport.com. I think, guys, he should become a band teacher after college and coach basketball, what do you think?

SAMBOLIN: That's a great idea. All he has to do is just stand under the basket, right? Unbelievable. 7'3". Thank you. And he can read music. ROMANS: All right. EARLY START back in a few moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: All right. That's it for EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.