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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

"Blade Runner" Bail Hearing: Day 3; Pistorius Lead Investigator Faces Criminal Charges; Car Bomb Explodes in Central Damascus; Shia LeBeouf Drops Out of Broadway

Aired February 21, 2013 - 08:00   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, everybody. Our STARTING POINT, breaking news in the Oscar Pistorius murder case, a threat clears the courtroom briefly. Now they're all back in session and back in that courtroom.

We're digging into what exactly happened, what the nature of that threat was. This is another bombshell dropped in this case. We've learned that the lead investigator himself is facing seven charges of attempted murder. We're going to bring you live outside that courthouse coming up.

Also a powerful winter storm a live look at Wichita, Kansas, 18 states are now getting blasted from the plains to the gulf coast. We'll have team coverage of this coming up.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Another developing story we're following, 35 people killed in a car blast outside the ruling party's headquarters in Syria, and then a horrifying moment caught on camera, new surveillance video shows the moment a deadly blast reduced a Kansas City restaurant to rubble.

O'BRIEN: At this hour, Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer and talk about the Oscars coming up. It's Thursday, February 20th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: All right. Welcome, everybody. Let's begin with breaking news in the Oscar Pistorius hearing that's under way right now, it's the third day.

We've learned there was some threat that cleared the courthouse and adjourned that hearing for a little bit of time. Right now, we're told everyone is back inside. It is unclear at this hour exactly what was behind the threat, why the courtroom was cleared.

Robyn Curnow is in the court. She says everybody is confused. The hearing is back in session. The judge is probing the possibility that Pistorius could potentially interfere with witnesses and be ineligible for bail. He's also addressing questions of previously behavior by Pistorius. This is the judge in the hearing.

He's listed Pistorius threatening to break someone's legs, allegations of discharging a gun at a restaurant. These are the sort of prior bad acts.

We're waiting of course on a decision on bail. That is the focus of this.

Very latest now from our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There was a brief interruption to the afternoon's hearing as the magistrate cleared the courtroom, sent Pistorius back down to the cells. There was some kind of security threat.

But perhaps the biggest headline, the fact that the cricket bat which has been very much in question, how did it get blood on it? There's been an indication perhaps it was used to break down the bathroom door. But according to what we've heard now, no indication that cricket bat was used in any way by Oscar Pistorius to injure Reeva Steenkamp whatsoever. The injuries on her body consisted only with bullet wounds. That's what we're hearing.

So, the cricket bat not used in any way to injure Steenkamp.

We've also heard from the defense laying out why they believe the police inspector's case has been based on weakly presented information. They don't believe there is a strong case here for a murder charge. They're saying the evidence that is required to be examined is forensic, that there are no eyewitnesses.

We've heard the judge as well interrupting to ask questions, why didn't Reeva Steenkamp call out when she was in the bathroom? Could she have gone to the bathroom, emptied her bladder? There's evidence as an indication she had gone to the bathroom to use the toilet. Why the judge -- magistrate was saying perhaps she had entered her bladder earlier, perhaps when she was shot her bladder had emptied as well.

So, we've seen the magistrate call into question some of what the defense is putting forward.

But again the prosecution its thrust here that Oscar Pistorius is at risk of flight, reading out from a magazine article where Pistorius is quoted as saying that he lived or spent several months a year at least in Italy where he was training for his athletics, for his running and that the prosecution is saying an indication he had somewhere else to go and live, all this playing out again in this third day of this bail hearing, going unexpectedly long, even by South African standards.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Pretoria, South Africa.

O'BRIEN: All right. Nic, thank you for that update.

Also, we're being told by Robyn Curnow who was inside that courtroom and has been tweeting us about some of the details in this hearing and when the courtroom was cleared and when everybody came back. She said the judge asked, so will there be shock if Pistorius is released and the defense answering, there will be shock if he is not released.

Do you think that's true?

TED SIMON, INTERNATIONAL LAW EXPERT: An appropriate response. Look, we just heard what you've characterized as alleged prior bad acts but all of those allegations could be quickly swept away if the defense would offer additional conditions, which are such things as house arrest, electronic monitoring, even put a guard outside the door.

Now, this might be perceived as punishment but it certainly would cure any possible thought that we would either flee, endanger anyone, endanger the safety of anyone, or interfere with the judicial process.

O'BRIEN: Do things always go better if your client is not in prison and he's out?

SIMON: There's no question. Every single case, bar none, if a defendant is on bail rather than in custody, the results will be better. There's no question.

CHRIS FRATES, REPORTER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Why is that?

SIMON: There's many, many, there are endless reasons. One, the greater access to the client, better relationship with the client. The client could be more involved in the defense. You could perform forensic, psychological and other kinds of tests without the government and the prosecution knowing what you're doing.

You know, it sends a message to the community as well that he's not so dangerous. He's not -- he is an honorable person at least with respect to the court, he's abided by the orders and he's done what the court wants him to do.

O'BRIEN: Not to mention South African prisons have a notorious reputation, I mean, if he were to be put in a South African prison --

SIMON: I mean, there's really -- I'd have to say there's no chance of this fellow fleeing. First of all, if you put those conditions we just discussed, his face is widely known. His disability is widely known. He could easily be recognized. His physical disability would easily be recognized and in fact, his very walk is probably different than most people. So I don't think there's any chance he would be --

O'BRIEN: Well, they're debating it. Some people think there is a chance.

ROMANS: But a young woman was gunned down, she was gunned down. Whether it was murder or whether it was some sort of manslaughter or something, she was gunned down. It was a very violent and painful way to die.

SIMON: You've set it up as murder or voluntary manslaughter.

ROMANS: Or self-defense, perceived self-defense. SIMON: Tragic, horrific mistake. He perceived the situation obviously wrongly and acted with utter fear. That is what the defense is saying.

Now, the prosecution hasn't really rebutted that. They haven't provided any forensics to challenge the defense position. So we can't simply say as horrific and tragic as this is, is anything other than a very, very tragic accident and horrific mistake.

O'BRIEN: Robyn Curnow is tweeting and she says the magistrate seems to be deeply considering the law and seems to be unconvinced by some of what the defense is saying. This is some of the information she's giving, she's inside the courthouse so all of the information we're getting from her is what she's able to send out to us in some of the tweets.

SIMON: Well, if -- sorry, Chris, if he isn't unconvinced, the defense can appeal to the high court and have --

O'BRIEN: And add more of those the conditions.

FRATES: But to Christine's point, I want to touch on that, because you do have a woman who is dead here and you're a defense attorney, so you're kind of taking that defense view. But if you're the prosecution, do you really want to chance letting such a high profile guy out who could, who has his history of violence and his history of being unpredictable, doesn't that play into the judge's decision, though?

SIMON: I would beg to differ. I wouldn't just characterize myself as defense lawyer. I mean, I'm looking at this objectively.

And when you are thinking about restraining someone's liberty, that's a significant -- you know, liberty interest, it's very important. And I think with these high profile cases, we forget some of the most important principles that exist in South Africa, the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And what's the likelihood in this case that the prosecution is going to be able to carry that burden?

So for every day he's in jail maybe one more day than he should be. And you can --

O'BRIEN: Does it matter what the family thinks? If Reeva Steenkamp's family says, we believe they were in love. We are stunned and we are shocked. But she loved him.

Will it play into what the judge decide to do, because you have a judge and not a jury making this decision?

SIMON: Yes. Well, I mean, all of those things are factors but so far, they haven't taken a public position. The parts I have observed is they've taken a fairly neutral position, that they haven't been engaged in the legal process and they're suffering this horrific tragedy. O'BRIEN: Right. We're hearing, in fact, from Reeva Steenkamp's family. They say they only want the truth about what happened. They're maintaining that they just don't understand. That's what her half brother Adam said in exclusive interview on CNN's Anderson Cooper last night.

He told Jake Tapper that they never discussed Reeva's relationship with Pistorius. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM STEENKAMP, VICTIM'S HALF-BROTHER (via telephone): I had no bad indications whatsoever. I did not actually talk to my sister in any detail about Oscar at all. I mean, in fact I didn't talk to my sister about Oscar at all. I wouldn't like to put words into my other family members' mouths, but everyone is saying the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRATES: I think those go either way, right? Like I didn't talk to my sister about Oscar at all, you get no sense, you know, was he all that close with his sister? If they didn't even come up in the months they've dated --

O'BRIEN: Consistently, they have taken that position -- I mean, they were only dating for four months or so. So, maybe that's part of it.

The other big story we're following right now is that powerful winter storm. But, you know, let's hold off on updating that and keep talking about this case if you don't mind, for a moment.

So, let's say that the family decides not to weigh, they take this position of saying we want the facts, we're not sure how to weigh in on it. If, in fact, they decide no bail and we've just heard from Robyn that the judge appears, in her assessment, to not be so moved by what the defense is saying, even though sort of in the way we interpret it, reading it, it sounds like they're absolutely devastating the prosecution's case.

SIMON: He may be being even-handed, that he's asking hard questions of the prosecution, and he's asking hard questions of the defense. So it's hard to read those tea leaves.

O'BRIEN: Ultimately, they have said and Robyn reported this earlier, that this is going to be a forensics case, it really won't matter anything other than that. Do you think that's true?

SIMON: Well, I think that's going to be --

O'BRIEN: I mean, no, eyewitnesses, so it becomes a forensics case.

SIMON: Right. It's going to be a significant part of the case, particularly, if the prosecution is able to demonstrate any parts of the affidavit offered for purposes of bail is incorrect or inaccurate.

FRATES: And is that an easier case for the defense if it's just forensics? You don't have eyewitnesses. You don't have some of these other things that might move a jury?

SIMON: Well, there's no jury there. But it's a question of moving the court.

And the forensics, look, they've hired some of the best experts already forensically. So, if the prosecution comes up with certain experts, it very well may be they'll be disputed.

Yes, forensics will play a part, but so far we've heard that the -- under cross-examination, the lead investigator has not been able to rebut or say anything that's inconsistent with the defense' affidavit. That alone should be enough to say it's in the interest of justice and there are exceptional circumstances that permit him to be released.

O'BRIEN: Well, we're watching. We continue -- it's day three and it's been very bizarre as they cleared the courthouse, we still haven't gotten all the details about what that threat was that cleared that courtroom briefly. We're looking into that as well.

All right. Now, let's turn to weather, shall we? It's our other big story this morning.

Eighteen states, 30 million people face a powerful winter storm that's moving into the plains. The system is huge. It's literally about the size of Mexico, stretches from the Dakotas all the way to Texas. And while it dumps snow in the North, it's also expected to pour heavy rain over the South, maybe even bring tornadoes along the Gulf Coast and parts of Kansas, looking at about a foot and a half of snow. Flights already canceled out of Kansas City International Airport.

Lots to talk about. Let's start with Erin McPike. She's in Wichita, Kansas. Jennifer Delgado, I should mention, is at the CNN weather center in Atlanta.

But, Erin, let's start with you because you look much colder and a little bit more miserable than Jennifer does. Good morning.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. I am cold. I want to tell you it's not too cold because it's 28 degrees, but it is still pretty cold.

But the snow is not coming down nearly as hard as it was a couple of hours ago. We've been out here for three hours and when we started there was nothing but now, if you look at this, we're down to about, oh six inches of snow. So, lots of snow.

But here's the thing about this. It looks like it's nice, like we could see a lot of snowmen out here in Kansas, not really. If I pick it up, I can't make a snowball at all, so Chris Frates is safe on your panel there back in New York, we're not going to hit him with a snowball.

Now, I have seen some snowplows come by. We've seen at least eight since we've been out here the past three hours and you still can't see the roads. So, what that means is it's going to be tough on the roads all day long. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has closed down most of the state. He says he doesn't want to see people out on the roads.

So play in the snow, stay off the roads today -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Erin, thank you for the update.

All right. Jennifer, you're up next. Give me a sense of where the storm is, where it's heading and how bad it's going to be.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi there, Soledad. You're right. We're tackling this storm right now and we are focusing on three elements here -- the freezing rain, we're talking about the ice as well as the snow and severe weather potential and we have it all on the radar. You can see where the line of storms are, they're going to be moving through Dallas, a lot of lightning associated with this storm system.

And with this, this is a sign of how strong the storm system is, the convection, and that's why we're getting reports of thunder snow. You can see the snow coming down through parts of Kansas, as well as into Missouri and we're going to see more of this developing throughout the day as well as more of that freezing rain, that means ice accumulations. And with the severe storms they're going to be from east Texas, all the way over towards areas, including Mississippi and they're going to get stronger even as we go later into the day.

Now, the snowfall totals, of course, very impressive, 12 to 18 inches north of Interstate 70, you're going to be hit hard, as well as parts of Nebraska. And there's the ice accumulation, one-half to three- quarter inch of accumulation possible.

So, that's right. Stay off the roads.

O'BRIEN: That's terrible.

DELGADO: Play in the snow. It's terrible.

O'BRIEN: Three-quarter inch of ice. That's horrible.

All right. Jennifer, thank you.

DELGADO: Yes, that's a lot to take power lines down.

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. You're right. Thank you for the update.

Christine has got a look at other stories making news.

ROMANS: Good morning, again. This morning, federal investigators will be on the scene of a deadly plane crash near Augusta, Georgia. Five of the seven people on board were killed when the small jet overshot the runway at an airport in Thomson, Georgia. The plane may have clipped power lines. This plane was arriving from Nashville, the two survivors are believed to be the pilot and one passenger. No word yet on who the victims are.

New picture this morning of that horrific gas explosion in Kansas City, Missouri. Surveillance video capturing the blast at a popular restaurant there. 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.

The mom accused of hiring strippers to perform at her son's 16th birthday party at a bowling alley has been charged. Thirty-three- year-old Jody Vigar is charged with five counts of endangering a welfare of a child. Parents found out about this when racy photos from the party began popping up on Facebook.

O'BRIEN: Racy doesn't even come close. These photos are out of control.

ROMANS: And young teenagers. The D.A. says some of the kids in the party were 13 years old.

O'BRIEN: This is bad parenting.

FRATES: I don't know a 16-year-old boy who wouldn't love that for his birthday but, I mean, this is like cool mom gone too far, right? You were trying to be way too cool and overstepped.

O'BRIEN: Five counts of -- so what does that mean she faces legally? Is it a year in prison per count possibly?

SIMON: This is under New York law?

O'BRIEN: Yes.

SIMON: Yes, obviously -- and probably that sounds right, I'm not that familiar with New York state procedure.

But this is also an example of what we call over criminalization. Just because someone exercises poor judgment doesn't mean they should be prosecuted.

O'BRIEN: Terrible judgment.

SIMON: Let's grant it. Let's call it terrible judgment. But do you think that we need to employ the criminal justice system and all the power of the state against an individual because they made some bad judgments?

ROMANS: She's charged with child endangerment and there's a lot of child endangerment that is very bad judgment and bad parenting. It also is about protecting children from bad judgment. That is a crime. I mean, the D.A. says this was a crime.

FRATES: I mean, this seems no different than serving underage kids alcohol, right? You don't serve them booze. You don't serve them strippers. Like, it's just common sense.

O'BRIEN: Bad, bad parenting. All right. We got to take a break.

(LAUGHTER)

Still ahead this morning -- because we could go on about this forever. Dozens of people are killed in major car bombing in Syria near the ruling party's headquarters. It happened this morning. We've got a live report on the impact of that and some of the damage.

Plus, how does it feel to wear Google's new glasses? The company has a new video that gives you a glimpse at their reality altering eyewear. That's ahead.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Breaking news this morning now out of Damascus, Syria. A car bomb targeting the headquarters of Syria's ruling party exploded in Central Damascus. We're hearing that 35 people have been killed at the scene, 237 others injured, most of them are reported to be civilians.

The vehicle detonated at a checkpoint manned by government soldiers in front of a bate socialist party's main office and also the Russian embassy. That's according to a human rights group. We want to get right to Ivan Watson. He's in Istanbul and has the very latest for us on this. Tell me a little bit about what happened.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Soledad. Massive explosion. If you look at the images, it's absolutely terrifying, cars, dozens of them hurled across streets by the force of this blast. We're hearing of basically hundreds of people wounded and killed as a result of this, and it's only one of several explosions.

Residents telling us that moments after this blast, there appears to have been another car bomb in another part of Damascus very close to one of the headquarters of one of the security agencies there and reports of fighting taking place there as well in the immediate aftermath. Take a listen to what one survivor had to say to Syrian State TV.

This is a woman from Iraq, one of the refugees in Syria from the neighboring Iraq conflict, and she is cursing the rebel free Syrian army for the blast. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): To the free Syrian army, I am from Iraq. The car blew up when I was in the area. Why? Why? May God curse you. Is this the freedom that they want? May God curse you, the FSA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Now, Soledad, it's important to point out that in addition to the violence today, Damascus has seen a lot of fighting in recent weeks and months, pitched street battles between rebels and government security forces in neighborhoods on the edges of the capital city. And we've seen Syrian government war planes bombing entire neighborhoods as well. This battle for Damascus is still being fought and claiming lives and it's far from over -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ivan Watson for us this morning on the breaking news. All right. Ivan, thank you.

Let's update with you some more breaking news now out of the Pistorius case which we've been monitoring for you. It is, what, three o'clock, 3:19 in the afternoon there, and they are giving their closing arguments. The state is wrapping up their closing arguments and we're getting word that, in fact, there will not be a resolution to this bail hearing today. They're postponing it now probably for another day.

We heard a little while ago from Nic Robertson who said that people have been stunned at how long this has been taking. Well, this pushes it into at least tomorrow as well as we continue to monitor and see if, in fact, Oscar Pistorius will get some kind of bail, will he get a schedule six is what he's facing right now, will they be able to drop it to schedule five?

It's going from premeditated murder to, I guess, just straight murder. And of course, that would have a huge impact on what kind of penalties he would face and how his --

SIMON: Well, it wouldn't change the offense that he's facing in the future. The question of removing it from his schedule six to a five is only for bail purposes. So, the court could say you know what? I don't think we need the additional elements of exceptional circumstances before we release you on bail.

We just have to show it's in the interest of justice. So, that's what the defense is trying to say that for bail purposes, it's a schedule five offense regular murder as opposed to a schedule six which is premeditated murder where you need a greater burden on the defense to show.

O'BRIEN: And as we've been talking about all morning in South Africa, there is not the jury listening to this, it's a judge and two magistrates working with the judge. And the judge, apparently, has asked Oscar Pistorius if he is OK and if he is following along and fully understanding what is happening in the hearing which I would imagine would just be routine in terms of checking in with the defendant.

SIMON: Well, it is customary, but in this case where he was heaving and crying on the first days of the hearing, it's appropriate for a court to inquire whether he is understanding the proceedings. And that's what I believe the court was doing. It would similarly be done in this -- in the United States as well.

O'BRIEN: Right.

SIMON: I think it shows humanity on the part of the court.

O'BRIEN: Doesn't really tip his hand, though, in which way he's going to rule on this bail hearing, ruling on the bail hearing left up to him and the magistrates. There's not a jury that we're waiting to hear from.

We're going to take a short break. Still ahead, Shia Labeouf has dropped out of his new Broadway show. And there is word that it might have something to do with Alec Baldwin. It's a story that's trending this morning, and we're following that straight ahead.

Plus, she's no stranger to an Oscar. Octavia Spencer is going to join us. She's going to have some Oscar predictions for us. That's straight ahead.

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ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. "Minding Your Business" this morning, big earnings from Wal-Mart this morning. The world's largest retailer beat estimates during the fourth quarter, but that's not the news in this report, folks. The news is that Wal-Mart says its sales this year have been slower as consumers deal with delayed tax refunds, high unemployment, and the payroll tax increase. Stock futures are down at the moment.

The head of a U.S. tire company is blasting the work ethic in France. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that Maurice Taylor, the CEO of a company called Titan International sent a scathing letter earlier this month to a French industry minister. He was responding to a request from France that Titan consider buying a shuttered tire plant in France.

The "Journal" says Taylor wrote, quote, "The French workforce gets paid high wages, but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch and talk for three and work for three."

We called Titan for a comment but haven't received a response. Its Web site says CEO Maurice Taylor, his nickname (INAUDIBLE) for his tough negotiating style, and at least, in this particular situation, very, very honest about his feelings about buying a French tire company.

O'BRIEN: Tough commentary about the companies he's looking at. All right. Christine, thank you.

Here's a look at what's trending this morning on CNN. If you were planning to see Shia Labeouf in his Broadway debut, forget about it. He quit the upcoming revival of the play "Orphans," because apparently, there are creative differences. He left the show just a month before previews. No doubt that's ruffling some feathers.

The announcement didn't really elaborate on the reasons behind his departure, but he's been posting e-mails on his Twitter account between him and the play's director and his co-star, Alec Baldwin, that gives an indication of a lot of drama behind the scenes. So, one can just guess that that's probably why he's leaving.

(LAUGHTER)

Marguerite Joseph (ph) of Grosse Pointe Shores in Michigan doesn't want to lie about her age, but Facebook is forcing her to not tell the truth about her age. Marguerite is 104 years old.

ROMANS: Love it. O'BRIEN: And yes, darn it, she wants to have a Facebook page. She's going to turn, I think, 105 in April. The settings, though, on Facebook don't allow her to enter her year of birth, which is 1908, so she has to say she's 99. Anyway, her granddaughter has helped her set up her Facebook profile a couple years ago.

They've been reaching out to the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, to try to get the problem corrected. So far, though, no comment from Facebook. Ninety-nine, 104, come on.

ROMANS: I love it that she's on Facebook. I just love it.

O'BRIEN: Isn't that great?

ROMANS: And that her granddaughter does it for her. That's great.

O'BRIEN: And minute-by-minute breaking details to tell you about in the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing. We've now learned that a decision on bail is not going to happen today as we were hoping to get that. We're going to have the word -- we're going to have the very latest from South Africa coming up next.

And then the U.S. is going to spend nearly $3 trillion, digest that for a moment, $3 trillion on health care this year in spite of the president's health care law. So, why do the medical bills keep rising? Steve Brill is going to join us with a look at "Time" magazine's new cover story that looks exclusively at why medical care costs so much. That's when we're back.

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