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Man Disappears into Sinkhole; California Wildfire Forces Evacuations; Countdown to Forced Spending Cuts; White House: Overturn Prop 8; Choosing the Next Pope; Jodi Arias Murder Trial

Aired March 1, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Swallowed up in his own home. Right now, a race against time to save a man after a sink hole opens up under his bedroom.


And happening now, a wildfire it is -- oh my gosh look, at that -- it is raging out of control. The fierce flames is creeping dangerously close to a lot of homes there.

BERMAN: Natural disasters to manmade ones. Steep and painful spending cuts, they will take effect almost definitely by the end of the day, with Washington powerless, not even willing to stop it.

SAMBOLIN: The odd couple in North Korea, east meets west, with Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un together, at last.

BERMAN: They look great together.

SAMBOLIN: They look odd together.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Friday -- Friday.

SAMBOLIN: Yay, happy Friday, everyone.

BERMAN: March 1st, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We're going to get started right now.

There is a terrifying ordeal unfolding as we speak. A man disappears in a sinkhole that opened up under his bedroom. Rescue crews cannot get in to look for him because the home is unsafe right now. This happened at a house about 15 miles east of Tampa.

One brother frantically tried to save another. The first responders had to pull him from the edge because the sink hole kept growing. The missing man is 36 years old. "The Tampa Bay Times" says crews are using gear to listen for sound from him. But so far, they have not been able to make any kind of contact. We'll have a live report in just a few moments.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. The details on that just opened up?

BERMAN: Really scary when you think about it.


All right. Right now wildfire spreading across Riverside County, this is California. It has forced people to evacuate their homes. You'll understand why when you look at these pictures. Some 200 firefighters are battling the blaze that has scorched at least 75 acres so far.

Authorities also report power lines are down in that area. No injuries have been reported. The cause of that fire is still unknown.

BERMAN: OK. So let the slashing begin. Forced spending cuts, $85 billion worth, set to launch by the stroke of midnight tonight. These cuts, they were designed to be so painful that neither party would dare let them happen.

But don't hold your breath for an 11th hour deal because most of your elected officials have already high tailed it out of Washington.

So once the cuts kick in, it will be a slow bleed. At some point we're likely to see flight delays, limited hours in services at national parks, furloughs, which is forced time off without pay for nearly 800,000 civilian Pentagon employees.

There is a meeting at the White House to discuss this mess but discuss doesn't mean do anything. At this point there doesn't seem to be any way to top the ax from falling.

Here is Brianna Keilar.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As President Obama meets at the White House today with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, the Capitol will sit empty. Congress, the very people who voted for the $85 billion in forced spending cuts set to kick in at midnight, left town Thursday without finding a way to fix the problem.

And now, the finger-pointing.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Republican proposal is the worst of all worlds. It explicitly protects pork barrel projects and every single tax loophole that benefits the wealthy.

KEILAR: President Obama wants to avoid the forced budget cuts in part with tax increases. Republicans refuse.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We've done our work. They've not done theirs. The House shouldn't have to pass a third bill to replace the sequester before the Senate passes one.

KEILAR: But the Senate failed to pass two bills Thursday, one Democratic and one Republican. Both measures that were never expected to succeed. Making it almost certain that President Obama will be forced to sign an executive order today that officially puts the cuts into effect. It will impact everything from our military, Medicare, and education to food inspection and homeland security.

President Obama in a written statement accused Senate Republicans of voting "to let the entire burden of deficit reduction fall squarely on the middle class."

Brianna Keilar, CNN, the White House.


BERMAN: So, in the next hour of EARLY START, we'll talk about the forced spending cuts with Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

SAMBOLIN: And we're also following new developments overseas. A Japanese court sentencing two U.S. Navy sailors to prison terms for raping a woman last year while they were on duty at a U.S. military base in Okinawa. Twenty-four-year-old Christopher Browning received a 10-year sentence, 23-year-old Skyler Dozierwalker got nine years.

The rape case triggered protests in Japan when that happened in October. The commander of U.S. forces there put troops on a curfew and apologized to the victims.

BERMAN: The White House jumped into the legal fray over Proposition 8 in California urging the Supreme Court to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage. In its friend of the court brief, the Obama administration said Prop 8 violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. But the administration does not go so far as to endorse a constitutional nationwide right to marry.

SAMBOLIN: It is the end of an era in the Catholic Church as the anticipation builds for the beginning of the next one.


BENEDICT XVI, POPE EMERITUS (through translator): I am no longer the pope. But I'm still in the church. I'm just a pilgrim who is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this Earth.


SAMBOLIN: He says also he will remain in constant prayer. And with those words and cheers from the faithful, the first pope in modern history to resign entered retirement. Pope Benedict XVI is now spending his first full day out of public life in seclusion at Castel Gandolfo, about 16 miles southeast of Vatican City where the ritual to choose his successor is set to begin.

So, senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is at Castel San Angelo in Rome.

And, Ben, yesterday, the Vatican confirmed that it had ordered wiretaps on some Vatican officials as part of the leaks investigation that happened. How do you think this could impact the conclave?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly this whole question of the investigation by the Vatican into the "Vatileaks" scandal whereby the butler of the pope leaks to an Italian journalist hundreds of highly sensitive documents from his office. Since then in September 2012, according to an Italian publication that's been following the (INAUDIBLE) within the Vatican, they began a series of wiretaps, looking at e-mails. This has been orchestrated according to these reports by a former member of the Italian secret service.

So the Vatican has flatly denied it saying it has no basis in reality. But nonetheless, it certainly would indicate that this question of what is really going on within the Vatican is something that will concern the cardinals as they prepare for the conclave. In fact, yesterday I attended a press conference by three American cardinals who said that they will be asking questions about this on going investigation and, of course, an investigation that was conducted by three other cardinals into the whole "Vatileaks" affair. So, very murky indeed.

SAMBOLIN: Certainly an ongoing concern. Although I have to say, the pope resigning was really -- kept very close to the vest.

So, today, what we want to know is, when does this conclave process begin? Do we know?

WEDEMAN: Certainly the wheels are in motion. Apparently last night the cardinals who are in Rome received notification that as of 9:30 a.m. local time Monday that they will begin this general congregation. That's where all the cardinals get together and discuss when the conclave will be held and all the other issues facing the church -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ben Wedeman, live in Rome for us -- thank you very much.

BERMAN: Eight minutes after the hour right now.

Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Turkey today. He'll meet with its leaders in Ankara. They're expected to discuss the Syrian conflict and aid to refugees and rebels. During international conference on Syria held in Rome yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry announced a $60 million package of non-lethal aid for the Syrian opposition and rebels.

SAMBOLIN: And in just a few hours, Michigan's governor is expected to officially declare a financial emergency for Detroit. It's paving the way for a possible state takeover. Sources say that will he will endorse the findings of a state report that said Detroit was in dire financial straits with no plans to reverse it. So, that will likely mean an emergency manager will be appointed to handle the city's fiscal affairs.

BERMAN: It is all system goes for the launch of a Space X rocket to the International Space Station later this morning. NASA says the unmanned private rocket will deliver some 1,300 pounds of supplies and experiments to the station. This is the second Space X cargo supply mission. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are set to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center at 10:10 Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: So, two BFFs chilling watching some hoops. How is this for the new odd couple?


SAMBOLIN: North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un and NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman laughing it up courtside in Pyongyang. Photos of the summit were published by "VICE" magazine, which is putting together a new show for HBO. HBO, that's their corporate sponsor.

After the game, Rodman gave a speech to the crowd in which he told Kim, "You have a friend for life."

BERMAN: So he's got that going for him.


BERMAN: All right. Nine minutes after the hour.

And swallowed up in his own home.

SAMBOLIN: Terrible.

BERMAN: This is an unbelievable story. Right now, a race against time to save a man after a sink hole opens up under his bedroom. We're going to live to the scene, next.

SAMBOLN: And the high drama in the courtroom. Have you been following this? Accused murderer Jodi Arias reduced to tears on the witness stand in her 12th day of testimony. The incredible developments, coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

Rescue crews right now trying to figure out how to get to a man who was swallowed up by a sink hole that opened up right underneath a bedroom.

Rob Munoz of our affiliate WFTS is live at the scene in Brandon, Florida.

And, Rob, what's the latest?

ROB MUNOZ, WFTS: Oh, really, that is what makes this unique, is that it's sitting, this entire house sitting on top of a sink hole. We're told when it started, it was about 15 feet deep. I'm going to show you this house here.

Fifteen across is when it started. Now we're told an engineering firm has estimated it's as wide as 100 feet across, maybe about 50 feet deep. Again, it's not just putting this entire house at risk, because we're told this entire house could go at any moment. But also the neighboring houses as well. They've evacuated those -- the families out of those houses to make sure they are OK.

What they're doing right now, again, continuously monitoring this to make sure that nobody is going near this, to make sure that nobody is going, again, anywhere around this house because part of the room has, again, collapsed as far as we know. But we're also told that owners here own this house for a while. They actually had it inspected last year and there were no signs of cracks or anything.

So, this really just happened out of nowhere according to the families. They say it sounded like a loud car crash coming through. And, again, just told that they're just continuously watching this house. The engineering firm that was earlier checking this out is going to come back out here at 6:00 this morning to get another estimate to see what is going on.

As far as that man, we do not have any confirmation whether or not he is alive or dead. But, again, the results here possibly could be grim, because we haven't heard anything because the equipment they've used have not picked up any sounds from him at all.

All they heard is continuously falling sand. This hole, we're told, is continuously falling. So really just kind of watching and waiting to see what happens next here. Again, like I said, the home could go at any moment.

BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to you, Rob Munoz, of our affiliate WFTS in Florida right now.

Again, the story down there -- very, very strange and alarming. A 100-foot sink hole opening up under a man's bedroom and that man is now missing -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: As the family stands by and watches this horrific nightmare. All right. Thank you very much, John.

When Jodi Arias' murder trial resumes on Monday, she'll be back on the witness stand now for a 13th day. Arias is accused of killing her boyfriend Travis Alexander. He was shot twice, stabbed 27 times, and had his throat slashed. But Arias claims it was self-defense.

The trial has revealed a lot of sordid, X-rated details of their relationship. And yesterday, Arias broke down during a grueling cross examination.

CNN's Randi Kaye on the dramatic day in court.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tears from Jodi Arias. She broke down on the stand as the first photo of Travis Alexander's body was displayed in court. It showed him twisted and crumpled on the shower floor.

JUAN MARTINEZ, PROSECUTOR: Ma'am, were you crying when you were shooting him?


MARTINEZ: Were you crying when you were stabbing him?

ARIAS: I don't remember.

MARTINEZ: How about when you cut his throat? Were you crying then?

ARIAS: I don't know.

KAYE: With her face in her hands, the prosecutor dared her to look.

MARTINEZ: Take a look, ma'am. You're the one that did this, right?


MARTINEZ: And you're the same individual that lied about all this, right?


MARTINEZ: So then take a look at it.

KAYE: From the stand, Arias did her best to convince the jury she acted in self-defense. She says Alexander attacked her after she dropped his camera.

ARIAS: He body slammed me.

MARTINEZ: He body slammed you down, right?


MARTINEZ: In a very forceful way. Where did he body slam you down, ma'am?

ARIAS: Right in the same area, on the tile.

KAYE: Even if it was self-defense, how did it lead to this? Nearly 30 stab wounds, his throat cut, and a single gunshot to the head. And prosecutors specifically retrace the steps leading up to that point, starting with the moment she says she shot him.

ARIAS: He just was running at me as I turned around.

KAYE: Arias alleged Alexander had charged her like a linebacker.

MARTINEZ: Show me the linebacker pose.

ARIAS: He got down.

MARTINEZ: Show me, show me the linebacker pose. That's what I'm asking for you to do.

ARIAS: OK, he went like that and he turned his head. KAYE: That's when she says the gun went off.

ARIAS: I think I screamed stop when I pointed the gun at him.

MARTINEZ: And then what do you do?

ARIAS: I don't really remember. I just remember -- I don't remember anything at that point, so I would be speculating.

KAYE: Later, the prosecutor displayed several gruesome photos from the crime scene.

MARTINEZ: And according to your versions of events, you would acknowledge that that stabbing was after the shooting, according to you, right?

ARIAS: I don't -- yes, I don't remember.

MARTINEZ: I'm not asking you if you remember, ma'am. I'm asking if you acknowledge that it would be you that did it, correct?


KAYE (on camera): No matter what she said on the stand, the state isn't buying her story, and here's why. Investigators believe Arias killed Alexander in the shower. Inside court, the prosecutors showed a clip of her interview with a detective, an attempt to prove that she lured Alexander to the shower just hours after they had sex.

ARIAS: I asked him if I could do pictures of him in the shower, and he was like, no. And I was like, I just had an idea, a couple of ideas, I saw this thing in a Calvin Klein ad once that looks really good. And so he was -- you're right. He wasn't very comfortable at first. He -- he's standing there and he's all, I feel gay.

KAYE (voice-over): Arias snapped naked photos of Alexander, including this one shown in court. Investigators say it's time stamped 5:30 p.m. just two minutes before Arias stabbed him in the heart.

MARTINEZ: So you were the person that was directing him on where to be and how to sit, right?


KAYE: Directing him, perhaps, to his own death.

MARTINEZ: Do you remember that we're talking about Travis Alexander? Let's start with that.

ARIAS: Yes, I remember that.

MARTINEZ: That's why we're here, because you killed him, right?


KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona. (END VIDEOTAPE)



SAMBOLIN: All right. Later on "STARTING POINT," at 7:15 Eastern, Soledad will talk with defense attorney Mark Geragos about the Arias murder trial.

And tonight on "A.C. 360," special report, "Sex, Lies, and Audiotape: The Jodi Arias Trial." That's tonight, 10:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

BERMAN: That is amazing testimony.

SAMBOLIN: Really, and the prosecutor, relentless.

BERMAN: Twenty minutes after the hour right now. And timing is everything when it comes to those forced spending cuts that will take effect in a matter of hours with Washington unable to stop them. A closer look at when it might actually affect you. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. We are minding your business this morning.

We have been on Dow record high watch. But today's stock futures indicating a mixed open. Blue chips got close within 16 points of a record high yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: And Wall Street is watching Washington very closely.

Some time today, the president will issue an official order for those forced spending cuts. But when will we actually feel it?

Christine, she's in Atlanta. Everybody wants to know the details on this -- when and if they will feel the cuts.


You know I talked to someone yesterday whose familiar is already feeling the cuts. A contractor, civilian contractor. in San Diego for the Navy already seeing layoffs there. So you're seeing sort of the ripple effects on the outside.

But, look, it's not going to be Armageddon for the American economy on Saturday. It will be weeks if not months assuming that these cuts stay in place before it will trickle down and will be felt more broadly. Let's talk about what happens here, what happens now.

Look, the White House has a detailed cuts for each agency. Again, this is assuming there isn't some sort of last-minute deal here. Then starting March 1st, you'll start to see the layoff notices for federal workers starting the furlough notices for federal workers.

Those furloughs, of course, mean you still have a job. You're just not going to be paid for some of your work. In effect, it will be probably one day a week, one day every few weeks.

Grants, contracts will be curtailed. The furloughs won't take place until March 26th and on. The IRS will not start any furloughs until after the tax season. Other agencies are already starting to put dates on the calendar starting to talk to unions and talk to workers about when people will be staying home.

Then you got this other sort of mini cliff deadline, whatever you want to call it, March 27th. Funding for the government expires. Expect another big fight there about how to keep the government running.

And then you have budget and debt ceiling negotiations through the summer. So you guys, we are once again at a deadline that is just a deadline before a bunch of other deadlines that will be playing out here.

Again, all of this is assuming, you know, the CBO says you could lose 750,000 jobs between now and the end of the fiscal year. All of this is assuming that Congress doesn't do something to soften this, quote, "sequester" to force spending cuts, guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, Christine.

So you read them before, the corporate good-bye e-mail. But wait until you read the one blasted out by a big time CEO. That's coming up.