Return to Transcripts main page


Bail Hearing for Oscar Pistorius Continues; Storms Hit Parts of America; Leading Nations Discourage Iran's Nuclear Program

Aired February 21, 2013 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, another shocking bombshell in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. This morning, we're learning that the lead investigator in the case is facing seven counts of attempted murder himself. That's as final arguments get under way as we're speaking.

The defense is claiming that the Olympian could not have committed premeditated murder. We're going to take you live to South Africa for reports.

Also, nearly half the country is under a wintry blast. Here's a live look this morning at Wichita, Kansas. Feet of snow in the heartland, tornado warnings in the gulf, snow blanketing the desert. We'll tell you where that storm is going next.

And then, we've got breaking news this morning out of Syria where 31 people are reported dead after a huge car bomb blast near the ruling party's headquarters. We'll bring you the very latest on that story as well.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: New overnight, five people killed when a small plane runs off a runway. We're live on the seen in Thompson, Georgia, where investigators are trying to find out how it happened and who was on board.

And President Obama addresses that highly talked about golf match with Tiger Woods. Who does he think was more nervous?

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, February 21st, and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Happening right now, Oscar Pistorius possibly minutes away from a decision on his bail as he fights a charge of premeditated murder against him. Final arguments are under way. It's day three of the hearing. The defense is angling for a lesser charge than premeditated murder. They say if Pistorius wanted to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, he could have done it in the bedroom and not in the bathroom.

We've also learned that the lead investigator in the case is facing reinstated attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini-bus that was carrying seven people back in 2009. Allegedly he was under the influence of alcohol at the time. I want to get right to senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He's live outside the court house in South Africa to walk us through some of the latest turn of events in this case. Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Well, the defense are putting their case just after a lunch recess, a very short lunch recess here. The defense saying that the prosecution hasn't even put forward enough evidence so far to determine that there should even be a murder charge, never mind premeditated murder. They say there's no eyewitnesses, that this is a forensic case.

The magistrate earlier in the proceedings called on the chief police investigator, the one with these attempted murder charges hanging over his head, called him into the courtroom and asked him if he was happy speaking in English rather than his native Afrikaner and he said yes, he was happy in English, but no mention whatsoever of those pending charges on him. The prosecution reading from a magazine today, a magazine in which Pistorius is quoted as saying that he lived several months of the year in Italy, which is where he trains. The prosecution saying that this, therefore, offers him somewhere to live in Italy and heightens the possibility of his flight if given bail. So the proceedings still going on into the third day here.

O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson, this morning. Thank you for the update.

Also we want to update folks, Nike says they're going to suspend their contract with Oscar Pistorius. The deal was believed to be worth $2 million, an ad featuring Pistorius with the words "I am the bullet in the chamber." That was already pulled. Nike says "We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

Also hearing this morning from Reeva Steenkamp's family, they're stunned, they're grieving, and all they want is the truth. Her cousin talked about Piers Morgan last night about the moment she heard the news that Reeva had been killed.


KIM MARTIN, COUSIN: The last thing I expected and it haunts me to this day, it's surreal. We turned around in this bumper-to-bumper traffic. We turned around and drove and I just remember thinking the whole time there's no way. Somebody is playing a joke. The radio guy is going to come on and say that this is a big joke.


O'BRIEN: I want to begin Ted Simon this morning. He's a criminal defense lawyer who has defended multiple clients not only here in the United States but also around the world. It's so nice to have you with us this morning.


O'BRIEN: Let's start with the question of bail. What are they considering now as we wait for them to come back with this information from the hearing?

SIMON: Obviously that's the critical question of the day. And it's the perfect question to start because we must start looking at this case through the lens of a criminal defense lawyer in South Africa and their system, because this is -- their system has some similarities to ours and many differences. We already know they don't have a jury system.

But with regard to bail, the critical question is this -- normally there's a presumption of innocence and the question of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which they have there. The burden always stays in the prosecution, just like here. But in bail cases, and particularly in murder cases, the burden shifts to the defendant. In a murder case, it's considered a schedule 5. A premeditated case is considered a schedule 6.

O'BRIEN: So their goal is to move it from schedule 6 to schedule 5 as fast as possible.

SIMON: Absolutely. In addition to showing the person is not a flight risk and not a danger to the community or any person and not going to interfere with the prosecution's case, they also want to show it's in the interests of justice, which is a lesser standard if it's a schedule 5. But if it's a schedule 6 premeditated murder, they must show exceptional circumstances.

And that is why they offered an affidavit in the case that both showed he would not interfere with the prosecution, that he would not flee, he was not going to endanger anyone, and also it was in the interest of justice, and they sought to attack the premeditated nature of the case to drop it to a schedule 5.

O'BRIEN: They also seem to be seeking to attack the investigator in the case. I tell you, there are shades of O.J. Simpson in all of this.


O'BRIEN: And the investigator seems to be playing the role of Mark Fuhrman. They have highlighted a case of 2009 where he fired at seven people in a minivan. That case reinstated we found out last night. Why this tactic and does that influence a case? As we heard from Nic Robertson, it's actually a forensics case.

SIMON: True. It colors the case. Even though these are true charges, you have to believe the prosecution had to be aware of the investigator's background. They made the choice to have him be the lead investigator as opposed to anyone else. So it somehow affects the judgment in the case and may affect how they charge the case.

It certainly is not a good fact. How bad remains to be seen. The question in this case largely will be the forensics. But coming back to the affidavit, why did they do that? We can't look at that from the perspective of a U.S. lawyer. They did it to specifically avoid him having to testify, be subject to cross examination, which, all of which would have been available for the trial -- O'BRIEN: So he doesn't have to answer any questions?

SIMON: This is critical, because if they didn't offer anything then they may not be able to undermine the premeditated nature of the allegation.

O'BRIEN: We'll obviously continue to talk about this case al morning and you're going to stick around with us, which we appreciate.

We also want to talk a little bit about our other top story this morning, 30 million people across the 18 states are now in the path of a powerful winter storm moving into the plains. The system is huge. It's literally an area about the size of Mexico stretching from the Dakotas all the way into Texas. And while it dumps snow in the north it's also going to pour heavy rain over parts of the south and maybe even tornados along the Gulf coast. Parts of Kansas are looking at a foot and a half of snow. Several flights have already been cancelled out of Kansas City International Airport.

We're covering this extreme weather from lots of angles this morning. Erin McPike is in Wichita, Kansas. Jennifer Delgado is live at the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Erin, let's start with you. How's it looking?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not quite as heavy as it was last hour, but it's still pretty heavy. We've seen snow plows go by here about six times in the last two hours and the roads are still covered. Also we've got this ruler, we've been measuring. About an hour ago it was four inches. Now we're at five-and-a-half.

But Soledad, here's the interesting thing about this storm. We're calling it a thunder-snow. There's thunder and lightning that goes along with it. I wish it would happen when I'm out here but I think we've got video, so let's play that video. I don't know if you can hear it.



MCPIKE: And that's why we're calling it the blizzard of oz. We've seen that a lot on twitter from some people in Kansas, so we want to name this storm the Blizzard of Oz, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I thought thunder-snow was dramatic enough. Let's get right to Jennifer Delgado on where the storm is going to head next.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right now we are watching the storm system and, Soledad, this is awe huge one. You can see where all the advisories are extending from Michigan all the way down towards Texas but this is our triple threat. If you add in the future flooding potential, we could call this a quadruple threat. We're talking about snow where we saw our reporter, ice as well as the severe storms that will be setting up.

Right now we're already looking at some of those moving through Texas as well as Oklahoma. You see that lightning there? That shows you how strong the convection is with the storm. That's why we saw that video of the thunder-snow and we'll continue to see this potential as we go through the day. We are talking about 12 to 18 inches of snowfall through parts of Kansas, Nebraska and then a half inch to three-quarter inch of ice accumulation for Missouri and parts of Arkansas. Soledad, that could lead to power lines down as well as trees.

O'BRIEN: Wow. That is a big massive area you've got there for us. Thanks, Jennifer, appreciate it. We'll keep monitoring that all morning.

Following a developing story as well out of Georgia where a plane that was carrying seven people has gone down. Christine has got that and also a look at the day's top stories for us. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. We're getting our first look at the scene of a small plane crash in Georgia. Five people died. Two people injured when the jet overshot the runway at Thompson McDuffy regional airport near Augusta. CNN's Victor Blackwell is live in Thompson, Georgia. What do we know this morning?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the sheriff's office says his department didn't even know about the plane crash until they started to get calls about power outages. When they came to look at those lines, they found the plane, parts on fire stretched over a field and forest of about a mile. The first call from the FAA said that it ran off the runway.

The closest part of this plane is over a four-lane road, past an industrial building and 100 yards or more away. They're telling us that the NTSB will determine exactly what happened. We know that power to a lot of the businesses and a technical college nearby is still out. That investigation from the FAA will continue this morning now that the sun is up.

We know that there are federal authorities on scene investigating. We're still trying to confirm who was on that plane. When we find that out, we'll bring it to you. Now back to you.

ROMANS: Victor Blackwell in Thompson, Georgia, thanks, Victor.

An update now on a story that's been breaking in Syria. A car bomb targeting the headquarters of Syria's ruling party exploding in central Damascus. We're now hearing 31 people were killed at the scene here. Ivan Watson live in Istanbul with the details. Good morning, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. That's right. A series of deadly explosions in the heart of Damascus, the first of them taking place within about 20 yards of one of the offices of the ruling Baath party. If you look at the video airing on Syrian state TV, it's just terrifying. Dozens of cars it looks like hurled by the force of this massive blast.

Syrian state TV is reporting at least 35 people killed, more than 200 people wounded. There are several schools close to where this explosion went off. We've been messaging with a resident who was nearby there and he's saying that the schools are ordering parents to come and bring their kids home to safety.

And this is only the first, Soledad, of several explosions. Not too far away in another neighborhood, at least one other car bomb being reported there by both Syrian state media and opposition media sources near one of the offices of one of the security forces groups there. And then we're also getting reports of possible clashes there between Syrian government security forces and rebels. So this is a very tumultuous, scary, and deadly day in the heart of the Syrian capital, Soledad.

ROMANS: Christine here, but thanks, Ivan Watson in Syria with the latest on that.

I want to bring you our first look at dramatic surveillance video capturing the moment, a gas explosion and fire leveled a restaurant in Kansas City. Look at this. Witnesses said it sounded like thunder, felt like an earthquake. One person was killed, more than a dozen others injured. Authorities say a utility construction crew severed a gas line leading to the massive explosion. And of course fire investigators say you could smell the gas in the air in the moments before the explosion.

A newly released 911 call from a shooting and carjacking spree in Orange County, California, that left four people dead including the gunman. This man early Tuesday morning when police say 20-year-old Ali Sayed fatally shot a young woman in his parents' home. His mother then frantically dialed 911.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is 911, what's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think somebody is shot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take a deep breath and tell me what's going on, OK.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Explain to me what's going on, please.

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


ROMANS: Terrifying. Police say Sayed committed three car-jackings. He killed two drivers in the process. The rampage ended when Sayed took his own life behind the wheel of a moving car.

First on CNN, the army's about-face on Paula Broadwell. They're revoking the promotion of David Petraeus' former mistress. Broadwell had been approved for a promotion from major to lieutenant colonel in the army reserves, but since the Petraeus scandal broke she's been under investigation for having classified information at home without permission. She will not get that promotion.

Take a look at the new official White House portrait of first lady Michelle Obama. Everyone is talking about her hair. The first lady debuted the new bangs last month just in time just in time for her husband's inauguration. And here's her official portrait from 2009. Back then everyone was talking about those very nicely toned arms.

O'BRIEN: Now we like the bangs and the arms.

ROMANS: I guess we like the whole package.

President Obama speaking out about that round of golf with Tiger Woods. The commander in chief and the four-time Masters champion teed up Sunday in Florida. Tiger thought it was, quote, "pretty cool" and praised the president's short game. Mr. Obama, a little bit more impressed.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he more nervous because he's playing with you or are you more nervous because you're playing with tiger woods?

OBAMA: I don't think he was nervous. He knew that I wasn't a big threat to his world ranking. And I knew that I better keep by day job.


ROMANS: The White House is still fielding complaints from the media for barring reporters and photographers from the president's golf outing. There's some in Washington still ticked off about that. Teed off, if you will.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a possible breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. World leaders reportedly ready to offer a new plan to convince Iran to shut down a nuclear enrichment site.

And then we look at business news as well.

ROMANS: Future video games, it's here. We'll look at the brand new PlayStation that was revealed. PS4 reclaiming the glory days of PlayStation? We'll let you know.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. There's word this morning that six world powers, including the United States, have come up with a plan to coax Iran into scrapping its nuclear program. They're going to presenting it to the Iranians in talks next Tuesday. We're told that they're going to offer significant economic incentives in exchange for Iran shutting down a uranium enrichment facility and surrendering its stockpile of enriched uranium. Foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, is in Washington, D.C. with some details on this new proposal.

Good morning, Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Good morning, Soledad. Well, sources are telling us the U.N. and its partners are sweetening the pot a bit from the deal they offered Iran last year and are asking more of Iran in return when they sit down next week in Kazakhstan.

So what's the deal? In exchange for easing the ban on the trade of gold and precious metals to Iran and giving them some nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, Iran has to close down this enrichment plant and ship out the uranium that is already enriched to a pretty high level. The big concern here is that this facility is underground and the longer Iran keeps running the plant and enriches uranium there and stores it, it becomes more difficult to stop them from having enough material for a nuclear weapon.

Iran has already rejected the plan, and my sources are saying expectations are pretty low for these talks. Iran has its elections coming up in June. No one really thinks that the Iranians will want to be seen as making concessions to the west before then. But Iran's economy is really hurting because of these biting sanctions on their oil sector and central bank. Take a look at this. In the last year alone, the Iranian currency has fallen 80 percent. So the U.S. and its partners feel maybe the rulers are getting desperate and could seriously negotiate after the elections. In the short term it might be good to get the talks going again and see what Iran really wants.

O'BRIEN: Elise Labott for us this morning, thanks Elise.

Coming up, one of the most anticipated retail reports of the year from Wal Mart just into CNN. We'll tell you the numbers and also what it means for the economy when we come back.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. "Minding your Business" this morning, stock futures lower at the moment. The Dow fell 108 points yesterday on fears the fed might scale back its bond-buying program. Remember that strategy engineered by the fed chief Ben Bernanke is credited with helping drive stocks to near record highs and stabilizing the economy. Wall Street also getting a big bunch of corporate earnings and economic data, the biggest of those coming from Wal Mart.

Just into CNN the world's largest retailer beat estimates during the quarter, a quarter that includes the holiday shopping season. It raked in almost half a trillion dollars in sales in 2012. But Wal Mart says sales this year have been slower, as consumers deal with delayed tax refunds, high unemployment and that payroll tax increase. So that could hurt profit or slow profit going forward. It really says a lot about the paycheck-to-paycheck crowd. That's why we really watch Wal Mart earnings.

Boeing working around the clock to get its Dreamliner back in the sky. Tomorrow a company executive will meet with FAA officials to lay out a temporary plan aimed at returning its 787 jets to service by April. The fleet has been grounded because of battery problems that ignited at least two fires.

Excitement over the new Playstation 4. Its hottest features, much improved social networking integration, streaming capabilities, plus a supercharged processor promising impressive high def graphics. PS4 is a major bid by Sony to regain momentum in the gaming industry which pulled in $78 billion globally last year. We're expecting it to be available by the holiday season. No word yet officially on pricing.

O'BRIEN: But available by the holiday season.

ROMANS: Of course. You got something like that, you want it ready by Christmas.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, an American held in Cuba since 2009. The country says he's not a spy, so why are they holding this man? Coming up next, we'll talk to Congressman Jim McGovern who's part of a congressional delegation to go to Cuba in recent memory. He'll join us to talk about this case.

Then an unbelievable story. Look at these little girls fighting. If you listen to the voices around them, they're saying "slap her, slap her" they're being encouraged to fight by the adults. We'll have that story, right after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, this half hour Oscar Pistorius is in court right now. He's fighting to get out of jail on bail. Just minutes ago his defense lawyers were saying that the police evidence is very poor and amounts to a monumental collapse of the state's case. Meantime the judge is asking for more clarity about the physical state of the victim at the time of her death and the blood on the cricket bat that was found in Pistorius' home. We've also learned that the lead investigator in the case officer Hilton Botha is facing reinstated attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus carrying seven people. This was a case back in 2009 and it was alleged at the time that he was under the influence of alcohol. Lots to get to in this case with our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, he's live outside the court house in South Africa. Let's walk through some of the details. Where do you want to start?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, after lunch, which the session began perhaps an hour ago after that very short break for lunch, it's been the defense taking the floor trying to unpick (ph) the case put forward by the prosecution saying Oscar Pistorius is such an international figure the risk of him fleeing the country is very low. He said that this is a case that relies on forensic evidence and that because there are no eyewitnesses, his challenge, the testimony put forward by the prosecution that somebody heard a heated argument between Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp, he said this house was how many yards away, 600 yards away? How would they have been able to hear that? We've also heard the magistrate this afternoon jumping in and challenging some of what the defense lawyer has been saying, questioning Reeva Steenkamp's situation after she died. We heard the defense say that her bladder was empty. That was consistent with the story she had gone to the bathroom. The judge said perhaps she went to a bathroom an hour before. Perhaps when she was shot she emptied her bladder. Perhaps because the screen door was open neighbors heard them arguing so you heard the magistrate challenging some of what the defense has been putting forward this afternoon.

O'BRIEN: And what the defense has been putting forward seems to be putting forward is not so strong, at least according to Robyn Curnow who has been reporting for us over the last couple of days and is inside the courtroom. Nic Robertson, thanks. Appreciate the update.

Let's walk through some of the prosecution's points and the defense points. For example, the prosecution, they have been claiming that Pistorius was on his prosthetic legs when shooting. They've talked about the angle - not just shooting through the bathroom door, because I guess the toilet was at an angle, but also the angle downward.