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Scandals Sour Pope's Final Week; Battle Over "Stand Your Ground" Law

Aired February 26, 2013 - 05:30   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday morning, 30 minutes after the hour right now.

And happening right now, a big, menacing blizzard. It is battering large parts of Texas and Oklahoma leaving thousands buried under more than a foot of snow this morning. Drivers are stranded on snow choked interstates, some plows were actually called back. Some emergency vehicles had to be bulldozed out themselves, and two people have been killed.

At this hour, winter storm warnings stretch from Oklahoma all the way up to Illinois. This massive system now tracking to the north and the east with Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. That's a lot of states squarely in its path. State by state, minute by minute, CNN is tracking this dangerous winter storm.

Jennifer Delgado from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. But first, let's get to Erin McPike who is live in Kansas City where they're getting hit again by their second snowstorm in a week. Good morning, Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes. Again, in a week and it's really going to be windy here. It already is, but we're expecting heavy gusts of wind, wind, John, they're already 9,500 power outages in Kansas City alone. We know there are about 10,000 power outages in Texas, also more in Oklahoma and throughout the region. So, this storm already is going to be more dangerous than the last.

BERMAN: Are we expecting any kind of records here, Erin?

MCPIKE: There may be. Now, we don't expect that this single snowfall will break the record set more than 100 years ago of 20 1/2 inches. We're expecting about a foot of snow. But the total of these two storms together could break a record for the season.

BERMAN: All right. Erin McPike, hang in there in Kansas City this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And a state of emergency has been declared for 66 counties in Oklahoma. The northwest part of the state hit especially hard. And joining us on the phone right now, the mayor of Woodward, Oklahoma, Roscoe Hill. And sir, what is the situation there this morning?

ROSCOE HILL, WOODWARD, OKLAHOMA MAYOR (via telephone): Well, we've come up with about 20 inches of real heavy wet snow, and it's caving some of our residents' houses in. We have one house, so far. We have snow plows out getting stuck and there's certainly no likelihood of traffic today.

I haven't been down public works building, but I've heard we're kind of stymied there. I know the ODOT snow rescue team is assisting, and we have a shelter set up for stranded motorists. Ray Carlson's managing that. We just -- we had something like this in 1971, but we had a little more snow than this.

SAMBOLIN: Well, no, this is unprecedented for you. And mayor, well, you mentioned one fatality. What happened?

HILL: Well, a roof caved in. Now, I haven't been out. I really can't get out. And this is just -- I'm hearing this from our employees. Our city is actually shut down and only necessary people are out. I know we've had a few fires. We can't get our fire equipment to the scenes. And, we just got a mess going on.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we did mention a state of emergency has been declared for the 56 counties. So, hopefully, there is help headed your way, sir. Mayor Roscoe Hill, thank you so much for spending some time with thus morning and good luck to you.

HILL: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Let's get right to Jennifer Delgado. She's in the CNN Weather Center where the system now, Jennifer, and who needs to be prepared for this next hit?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Zoraida. You know, we just heard from the official on in Woodward, Oklahoma. And the good news is that snow pretty much done for across parts of Oklahoma, but Woodward picked up 15 inches. Now, snow still coming down especially right along Interstate 70.

You can see Kansas City, St. Louis, you're dealing with rain. For areas like Kansas City, we are talking roughly about six to 12 inches of snow. Now, the snow is going to continue to pick up as we go throughout the morning and afternoon. For St. Louis, you'll see that changing over later into the day. Roughly right around 3:00 or so, you'll start to see more that piling up. And then for areas like Chicago, we are talking three to six inches of snowfall.

This is going to be welcomed for the area. And even on the backside of that low, we are going to be picking up some lake-effect snow as we go through tomorrow. But the other story that we're focusing on is the heavy rainfall and the severe weather that's moving through parts of Florida. You can see in the panhandle, we do have a tornado watch.

This is in place until 9:00 a.m. We've even had tornado warnings popping up. Well, this is dumping a tremendous amount of rain. I have to tell you, Zoraida and John, I really could have used a boat coming into work this morning, because really, the roadways were just pounding with water. I also want to point out to you the severe weather threat is going to be in place through today. That includes parts of North Carolina, even into areas like Virginia down to Florida and that means you could see some storms producing some isolated tornadoes as well as damaging winds.

One to two more inches of rainfall. And, of course, this is going to lead to a lot of travel delays with those winds up to about 35 and 40 miles per hour, Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C., Atlanta, hello. You're going to be there for a while.

SAMBOLIN: And flooding as well. We've got a little bit of everything going on this morning.


SAMBOLIN: Jennifer Delgado, thank you very much.

DELGADO: Thank you, Zoraida.


BERMAN (voice-over): Thirty-five minutes after the hour right now. The manhunt is stretching from the Vegas strip to the East Coast for Lamar Harris, the man wanted in connection with last week's deadly shooting and crash in Las Vegas. Investigators extending their search to South Carolina, Georgia, South Florida, places where Harris used to live.

He is wanted for allegedly shooting rapper, Kenneth Cherry, also known as Kenny Clutch, while Cherry drove his Maserati down the Vegas strip. Cherry's Maserati then hit a taxi which went up in flames. Cherry and two people in the taxi died.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): A family could be clinging to a life ringer, a cooler in the Pacific Ocean for a second night. And rescue crews haven't given up on finding them. A husband, wife, and two young children were forced out of their sail boat Sunday when it started taking on water. This is about 66 miles off Monterey, California.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coast Guard, Coast Guard, we are abandoning ship. This is the Charm Blow, we are abandoning ship.


SAMBOLIN: That was pretty much the last anyone heard from them. The Coast Guard says it's still an active search, but so far, they haven't found any clues. They also don't know where the boat sailed from or where it was headed. So, that's making the search really difficult for them.

BERMAN: Syrian opposition groups say rebels shot down not one but two government helicopters. And they were caught on amateur video.


BERMAN: Right there, you can see from this clip, one helicopter exploded in mid aid. In the other video, you can hear rebels chant "God is great" after anti-aircraft fire makes a chopper go into a tailspin and then explodes when it hits the ground. Now, CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of these clips.

SAMBOLIN: And happening right now in Germany, secretary of state, John Kerry, is in berlin, his first trip to Germany as the nation's new top diplomat. It's one stop on his 11-day, nine-country tour. Kerry will hold a series of high level meetings with German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.


BERMAN (on-camera): So, you want to ward off the stroke or a heart attack? I think the answer to that is yes from everyone. The Mediterranean diet is apparently the way to go. That's what a just published study in the New England Journal of Medicine found. In fact, the benefits were so clear --

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Really?

BERMAN: -- so clear that Spanish researchers say they decided to end the study early after about five years saying it would be unethical not to end it.


BERMAN: They followed more than 7,000 people with heart disease, risk factors, some followed up a low-fat diet but those who followed a Mediterranean diet was either extra-virgin olive oil or nuts and even wine at dinner like seven cups a week, by the way, were 30 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or death associated with cardiovascular disease.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I laugh because this has been around for so long. Folks talking about the Mediterranean diet and the how good it is for you. I guess after five years you say, all right.

BERMAN: I can see the wine.

SAMBOLIN: Conclusive. Yes. I know this.

BERMAN: At least seven cups of wine a week.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. Scandals coming to a head at the Catholic Church with Pope Benedict XVI just days away from retirement. We're going to go live to the Vatican coming up.

BERMAN: Plus, how young is too young to star in an adult themed rap music video?

SAMBOLIN: That's too young.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Pope Benedict XVI is just days away from stepping down as leader of the Catholic Church worldwide. He'll be the first pope to do so in 600 years as a string of child sex abuse scandals are surrounding the Vatican. From the U.K.'s highest cleric resigning amid accusations of inappropriate behavior to reports in the Italian press of an underground gay priest ring.

And if that wasn't enough, an openly gay former Dominican friar has said publicly the issue of homosexuality is, quote, "a ticking time bomb in the Catholic Church." Barbie Nadeau is live in Vatican City for us. And Barbie, how are people reacting to this flood of recent accusations?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Italians love a good conspiracy theory. And the Vatican, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has really given them a lot to talk about. But it's much more important what the cardinals think. And we've got today, you know, many of these cardinals are coming into Rome for the pope's final farewell audience tomorrow.

And, you know, they're listening to what is being said on the local television. They're reading the press. They're reading the papers. They're the once who just really count for (ph) whether these scandals really are indicative of big problems within their church and that puts out of responsibility on who they elect as the new pope.

SAMBOLIN: Talk about Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. He'll be part of a conclave. Despite damning new revelations about his handling of pedophile priest, will the participation of figures like Mahoney undermine the credibility of the next pope?

NADEAU: Well, you know, as many analysts say here if, you excluded every cardinal who had a scandal attached to him with, you know, connected to the child sex abuse problem in the church, you wouldn't have many people voting in the conclave. But, you know, cardinals like Mahony have been especially vulnerable because people are paying attention to him. But so many cardinals, you know, especially in Europe and the United States also have the scandals attached to their reign.

So, you now, it's really difficult. Because of the fact that so many -- this is a bureaucracy and the bureaucratic movements of these priests who are (INAUDIBLE) really isn't seem to be the responsibility of the cardinal but the responsibilities of the individual diocese. It's very complicated affair (ph). It's different, of course, from Cardinal Keith O'Brien who is the British archbishop of Scotland who is accused of directly abusing seminarians. That's an entirely different issue because he is accused of being involved in the scandal himself.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and stepping down and resigning and not being involved in the conclave. Just so much to talk about. Barbie Nadeau, we really appreciate you this morning. Thank you.

BERMAN: Forty-four minutes after the hour. There is a move in the House of Representatives to legalize medical marijuana. A bill that has more than a dozen co-sponsors would allow states to make the drug legal and would block the federal government from taking action against states where it is already allowed. And political reports that the FDA could eventually make medical marijuana a legal product.

SAMBOLIN: A rap video featuring flashy cars, women in tight clothes, suggestive dancing, not unusual. But this rapper right there, folks, he is nine years old. And he's using lyrics like coke is not a bad word. Now, child welfare workers are taking a closer look at Lil Poopy. That's how he's known. Lil Poopy's YouTube videos. They're investigating whether there's evidence of child neglect and abuse. The family's attorney says it's protected speech.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he's got a first amendment legal right to sing the rap that he's singing. I've been asked that. I would absolutely let one of my children participate in videos if that he had that type of talent.


SAMBOLIN: The boy's dad told the Boston TV station his son has done nothing wrong. Police have not filed criminal charges or arrested the boy's father.

BERMAN: His son has that type of talent. Interesting words.

SAMBOLIN: Very interesting.

BERMAN: What are the perks in the dot-com era was supposed to be the chance to work from home in your pajamas or whatever you wanted to wear.


BERMAN: But it looks like those days may be over, at least at Yahoo. CEO, Marissa Mayer, has ordered telecommuters to come into the office starting in June. Yahoo claims it wants workers to interact with each other. But if this is insider source says many of Yahoo's remote employees are not productive, just trying to stay off the radar and keep getting paid like Milton -- you know, Milton, the character in office space.

There has been a lot of backlash, though. Richard Brandon (ph) said Mayer's decision is a step backwards. Donald Trump said it was a step forward. A lot of discussion. Is it good to stay at home? Is it good to come to the office?

SAMBOLIN: It's good for the worker.


BERMAN: I like coming to the office every day.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, do i.

All right. Forty-six minutes past the hour. The battle over Florida's stand your ground law returns to the forefront one year to the day since Trayvon Martin was shot. We have a closer look coming up.

BERMAN: Plus, Manti Te'o trying to make NFL scouts forget about his fake girlfriend. Not so easy.

SAMBOLIN: Will it work?


BERMAN: Forty-nine minutes after the hour right now. A lot going on this morning. So, Christine Romans is here with today's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to both of you. Happening right now --


ROMANS (voice-over): Some people are waking up to more snow than they've seen in 40 years. A dangerous winter storm tracking to the north and east after battering the Southern Plains. Dumping a record 19 inches of snow on Amarillo, Texas. Two fatalities blamed on the blizzard so far. This hour, the storm is now targeting Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan.

Sacramento police have fired and arrested one of their own. Former officer, Sergio Alvarez, is accused of sexually assaulting at least six women. Investigators say Alvarez was in uniform during the attacks and that some happened in his patrol car. Police officials are now debating whether to let officers patrol alone late at night.

And we could see some gun control bills moving on Capitol Hill this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee might start looking at them Thursday. One measure would ban military style assault weapons. Republicans and some Democrats oppose that one. A background check's bill could have a better chance of passing -- Zoraida.


SAMBOLIN: Many gun control advocates want Florida to scrap its Stand Your Ground Law. And that's unlikely as a law has plenty of supporters. It permits people to use force to protect themselves without retreating their ground. The law gained nationwide attention when George Zimmerman claimed that he Shot Trayvon martin in self- defense one year ago today. Victor Blackwell looks at the pros and the cons.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the anniversary of the killing of unarmed Florida teen, Trayvon Martin, that sparked protest and rallies across the country, there is now a renewed fight over the controversial stand your ground law that could make his killer, George Zimmerman, a free man once again.

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, TRAYVON MARTIN FOUNDATION: Can you start a fight, lose the fight, and then claim stand your ground?

BLACKWELL: Michael Skolnik of the Trayvon Martin Foundation believes stand your ground laws are ineffective and should be repealed.

SKOLNIK: It promotes vigilantism. It promotes the idea that you go out there and you take care of the situation and don't listen to the police and don't listen to the law enforcement.

BLACKWELL: Late last week, a task force commissioned by Florida governor, Rick Scott, at the height of the public outcry returned to its final report supporting the law. It asserts all persons who are conducting themselves in a lawful manner have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: All stand your ground is a form of the self-defense defense. But it gives a defendant a lot more ability to use self-defense because self-defense is so broadly defined in stand your ground.

MARCO O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S ATTORNEY: You can do away with the statute and just look at common law.

BLACKWELL: Zimmerman's legal team led by Attorney Marco Mara has signaled they'll argue not the controversial stand your ground but basic self-defense.

O'MARA: He was allowed to do exactly what he did which was being reasonable fear of great on (ph) the injury and resist with deadly force.

BLACKWELL: Weeks before the scheduled start of that stand your ground hearing, Florida lawmakers are considering several competing bills ranging from incremental changes to stand your ground to full repeal, something Skolnik acknowledges will not be easy.

SKOLNIK: We're in for the fight. We know that when America changes we have growing pains. These are difficult growing pains.

BLACKWELL: Victor Blackwell, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: Fifty-three minutes after the hour, and Manti Te'o finally getting a shot to focus on football and disappointing a little bit. More than a month after the fake dead online girlfriend hoax came to light, the former Notre Dame linebacker ran a surprisingly slow 40- yard dash at the NFL scouting combine yesterday. You saw it right there.

He clocked in at unofficial times of 4.81 and 4.8 in the 40. You know, that's actually fairly slow. A lot of linebackers, like 20 linebackers, ran faster than him. This could send his draft stock even lower. I was reading something experts saying he could even fall to the second round. It had nothing to do with his head this time. Everything to do with his speed.

SAMBOLIN: What do you think? That has to do with it because there were such high expectations.

BERMAN: You know, it could be that the girlfriend story during the season over-hyped his ability and maybe that -- look, who knows? You know, bad national championship game also. It's been a while since he played well.

SAMBOLIN: Wow! That's too bad.

All right. So, member of the Jackson Family, did you hear about this, able to keep a really, really big secret from the press for a long, long time. Janet Jackson's big reveal is next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Fifty-seven minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman along with Zoraida Sambolin, and we are taking a look at the top CNN Trends on the internet this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And rumors that Janet Jackson is engaged are not true. You know why? She has already married. In a statement to E-Online, Jackson and her husband, billionaire businessman announced, Wissam Al Mana, announced that they married last year in a quiet, private, and beautiful ceremony and that their wedding gifts to one another were donations to children's charities.

Their favorite children's charities. This is Jackson's third marriage. I need to get a little bit more info for folks. So, he is 37 years old, nine years her junior, and he's a fashion mogul.

BERMAN: Sounds like a catch.

SAMBOLIN: Look at him.


BERMAN: So, holy plot twist, Batman, Robin the boy wonder, Batman's sidekick, will die in issue number eight of D.C. Comics --


BERMAN: "Batman Incorporated" which is to sell Wednesday (ph).


BERMAN: In this latest Batman story line which started seven years ago, Robin is actually Batman's son which is a first for the franchise, but rest assured, this is not actually the first time that Robin has died. There have been a lot of Robins. One was actually voted out to be killed in the 1980s. This is not --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, really?

BERMAN: This is not Dick Grayson -- it's going to be OK. This is not Dick Grayson who is probably the most famous robin from the 1960s and 1970s. It's just the latest Robin, but nevertheless, an interesting plot twist.

SAMBOLIN: I do not like Robin dying.

BERMAN: Well, sorry. Get used to it.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-nine minutes past the hour. To check out our other top CNN Trends, head to

BERMAN: Meanwhile, EARLY START continues right now.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Happening right now, a brutal blizzard pounding towns and cities from the Southern Plains, north to Illinois.

BERMAN (voice-over): Developing overnight, a hot air balloon packed with tourists takes a deadly plunge.

SAMBOLIN: Snubbed by his own party. Chris Christie gets the cold shoulder, left off the list for a key GOP event.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. I'm a mess with all my papers right here.


BERMAN: It is Tuesday, February 26th. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east. And happening right now, a blizzard for the history books blasting the southern plains, leaving large part of Texas and Oklahoma buried under more than a foot of snow this morning. Roads are impassable. Drivers are stranded. This picture, really, dramatic picture was sent to us from iReporter, Philip Prince (ph).

A trucker who was stuck on Interstate 40 about 50 miles east of Amarillo. He says the highway has been shut down and he'd been stuck for about eight hours when he took this picture. Two people have been killed, one on an icy road in Kansas, the other at a home in Oklahoma where the roof collapsed under the weight of the snow.