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North Korea Threatens Preemptive Nuke Strike; Lion Mauls Woman to Death; Strong Storm Slams Northeast; Berlusconi Sentenced to Prison; Real-Life "Black Swan"; Obama to Sign Violence Against Women Act; Major Hotels Change Reward Plans

Aired March 7, 2013 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A wild animal and a deadly attack. A 24- year-old woman at an animal sanctuary killed inside a lion cage.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A nuclear threat this morning. The aggressive claims from North Korea.

BERMAN: Off the stage and behind bars. Early this morning, a judge cracking down on the ballet dancer accused in an acid attack on a theater director. We are live in Russia, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: And no rest for the storm weary. People are still picking up after Sandy. They are now on watch for a brand new flood threat this morning.

On that note, I am going to say welcome back. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's great to see you this morning. It is Thursday, March 7th.

Thirty minutes after the hour right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. New this morning, North Korea threatening a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, as the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on tougher sanctions against it. A foreign ministry spokesman made the threat in a statement to a state- run news agency. Right now, it is believed Pyongyang does not have the capacity to deliver a nuclear strike on the United States.

BERMAN: In other news, we have some new information this morning about a woman mauled to death by a lion at an animal sanctuary.

This is exclusive CNN video of the 350-pound African lion named Cous Cous. He had to be shot and killed by sheriff's deputies when he would not allow anyone to come close enough to rescue a 24-year-old intern. Her name was Dianna Hanson.

This horrible tragedy unfolding yesterday afternoon at the Project Survival Cat Haven in Dunlap, California.

Dan Simon is there for us this morning. Dan, what is the latest?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, John. I think there are a few key questions this morning. What kind of protocols did this facility have in place? Were they followed? Were they ignored? How did this young woman, this 24-year-old volunteer intern, get in a position where she could be alone with this lion and be attacked?

Let me tell you a little bit about this place, Cat Haven. It's got 50 exotic, rare, some of these cats are very large. It's open to the public. They have guided tours every day.

Now, this young woman, the intern, 24-year-old Dianna Hanson, she came from Washington state. This was her dream. She wanted to be around these kind of animals.

Her father spoke out and said that she had a rare passion for these kinds of cats. Take a look.


PAUL HANSON, FATHER (via telephone): She was so happy when she got that internship. She was having so much fun down there. It was her dream job. She was so happy there. It makes it bearable that she died so happy.


SIMON: Well, the investigation will obviously continue today.

As we said earlier, was she lulled into some kind of false sense of security? Did she feel like she had bonded with this lion in some sense? You see some of these YouTube videos with trainers hugging the lions. When we see a situation like that, we don't want to speculate but it makes you wonder how she got into this enclosure and how, you know, did she feel safe or was this just some kind of bizarre accident -- John.

BERMAN: Sure it does make you wonder, John. You know, just an intern alone with a lion in a cage makes you think, you know, did she think this lion was safe? Had this lion shown any previous signs of aggression?

SIMON: Apparently not, at least as far as we can tell. This lion was sort of a public figure. Had been on some television shows, had been photographed a lot. And as best as we can tell in terms of people who had been around this lion, it absolutely showed no signs of aggression. This lion was raised -- born into captivity, came here at six weeks of age, was five years old and apparently didn't show any violence or aggression towards human beings.

BERMAN: All right. Dan Simon at Cat Haven for us in California this morning -- our thanks to you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-four minutes past the hour. Winter storm warnings are in effect right now for at least eight states. That's from New Jersey to Maine. This is the same system that tore apart the Midwest and buried parts of Virginia under 20 inches of snow on Wednesday.

A travel nightmare ensued on the highways and at the airports. More than 1,600 flights were cancelled and the governor declared a state of emergency in Virginia. A mass power outage has at least 216,000 customers without electricity this morning.

And right now, New England is bracing for really strong gusty winds, coastal flooding and add some snow to that as well. New York City and Boston could get anywhere from two to five inches of snow today. The heaviest snowfall, up to a foot, is predicted for parts of New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and eastern New York state.

We've got this covered for you. Karen Maginnis is live in the severe weather center with a lot more details for us.

Good morning to you.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and good morning to you, Zoraida.

As we do take a look at this area of low pressure, it is offshore but it's not gone away. We're going to see some wind-enhanced wave heights over the next 24 to 36 hours.

Here's what it looks like on our enhanced water vapor imagery. And we'll watch a little piece of energy move off of the Great Lakes, kind of combined with the system and so that's really going to enhance the snowfall. Well, the winds are gusting up to around 50 miles an hour this morning.

Take a look at Boston. Right now in the past hour, just about 40 miles an hour, but because they're coming out of the North and the Northeast, that's why we could see at high tide some of these wave heights about three to five feet above where the high tide would normally be.

So, the coastal flood warnings in effect all the way from coastal regions of New Jersey extending up to New York and we will see that extend up into New England, as we head towards the weekend.

So we're not finished with this system yet. Even in Boston, you could expect four to six inches of snowfall. And there is a winter weather advisory in effect.

Back to you, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, Karen Maginnis.

BERMAN: And we have some breaking news right now. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi apparently just sentenced in court to one year in prison. That's from the Italian news agency, ANSA. The case involves the publication of a leak of transcripts from a police wire tap in a newspaper that he owns.

Now, under Italian law, Berlusconi won't actually go to prison. His lawyers can appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court which will suspend the sentence. We also expect the verdicts sometime this month in two other court cases involving Berlusconi, one involves tax fraud, another involves accusations of sex with an underage prostitute.

So, at a minimum, some serious legal issues for the former Italian prime minister.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Perhaps more to come.

Thirty-six minutes past the hour.

Overseas, a Russian court ruling the alleged mastermind of an acid attack on the head of the Bolshoi ballet and his two alleged co- conspirators will remain in custody while police continue to investigate this. The company's lead dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko could face eight years in jail if convicted in the attack that may have been fueled by jealousy.

CNN's Phil Black is following all of the developments. He is live in Moscow for us.

So, Phil, the lead dancer did confess. What did he say his role was in this attack?


Dmitrichenko confessed to being the organizer here, but only to a point. He admits that he was unhappy with the artistic director of the Bolshoi, Sergei Filin. He talked about this to someone that he knew. And this person offered to help take care of the problem by beating up Sergei Filin man.

Dmitrichenko says he agreed to that, but he said he did not agree to, had no idea of and certainly did not order was the use of sulfuric acid in this attack. He said he had no idea that was going to happen. He did not want Sergei Filin to be hurt seriously.

And when he heard what happened, he was just as shocked as anyone else, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: So, Phil, the other two that are in custody, what do they say about what he's saying?

BLACK: Well, we're still waiting to hear precisely what that will be, just to what extent their version of the story does differ. They have also been remanded in custody while this investigation is completed and until it moves on to a proper trial. According to the Russian police, however, those two have also confessed to their role in planning and carrying out this attack, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it's a horrific attack.

Phil Black live for us in Moscow, thank you very much. BERMAN: Thirty-eight minutes after the hour.

And this morning Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' body lies in state this morning in Venezuela. And various Latin American leaders are already there for tomorrow's funeral. The country has declared seven days of mourning, closed schools and deployed armed forces to help keep the peace. Venezuela's interior ministry also banned the sale, distribution and consumption of alcohol during this mourning period.

SAMBOLIN: And, today, President Obama will sign the Violence Against Women Act into law. The Republican-run House finally signed off on the bill after months of negotiations. It's aimed at strengthening the criminal system's response to domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking.

Women from leading advocacy groups have been invited. Vice President Joe Biden will be there as well.

BERMAN: So in case you were worried, Mitt Romney -- Mitt Romney has landed on his feet. Don't want you to worry anymore.

The former presidential candidate is returning to the private sector. The former Massachusetts governor is joining his oldest son, Tagg, at an investment firm Solamere which Tagg runs. He will reportedly work for the firm one week a month -- Mitt Romney will -- advising on matters of private equity which he knows a little something about. The guy made $250 million doing private equity. So, Tagg just signed a good adviser.

SAMBOLIN: No kidding.

BERMAN: Thirty-nine minutes after the hour right now.

And an old-fashioned filibuster lasting nearly 13 hours. But did Rand Paul's big stand really accomplish anything?

SAMBOLIN: And the hunt for a serial arsonist. Authorities trying to find out who is burning the Virginia shore.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back.

Soledad O'Brien joins us with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Lots to talk about this morning.

We're going to start with the tragedy at the big cat sanctuary. A young woman mauled to death by a lion. Is it ever safe to work with wild animals? We put that question to animal experts Jeff Corwin and Jack Hanna, who will be joining us live this morning.

President Obama invites 12 Republican senators to dinner. That sounds like that could be a hot mess but in fact we're told that it went pretty well. We'll find out what was on the menu for them. And then a high school basketball coach, we told you this story yesterday, sinks a half-court shot winning $20,000. And then we learned that the money is going to go to his wife's cancer treatments. And they have seven children, too.

They're going to join us this morning with their incredible story about what's happening with them.

Also, Mila Kunis, did you see some this interview she did -- oh, my goodness -- with this young guy who works for the BBC. He's absolutely adorable, talks about everything exempt the movie that she's there to pitch but it's hilarious.

We'll chat with him this morning about how he thinks it went.

BERMAN: I bet he thinks it went great.


O'BRIEN: I keep waiting to hear about the date that he asked her on.


O'BRIEN: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: That's cool. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Top stories this morning:

News flash: Rand Paul has stopped talking. The Republican senator from Kentucky finally ended his old-fashioned filibuster at 12:38 Eastern Time. That was this morning. It lasted 12 hours, 52 minutes.

Paul is protesting the administration's domestic drone policy. His filibuster delaying the confirmation of John Brennan to be the next director of the CIA.

BERMAN: Arkansas lawmakers have overturned Governor Mike Beebe's veto of a controversial new state law that bans abortion after 12 weeks. This means that there is that law now in effect. It is the most restrictive early abortion ban in the country. The center for Reproductive Rights in the Arkansas ACLU say they will challenge this law in federal court.

SAMBOLIN: Authorities in Virginia say arson is to blame for more than 60 fires along the eastern shore. Since November, 62 vacant structures have burned in Accomack County, including two on Tuesday night. The ATF and FBI have joined this investigation now, and there is a $25,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest or and a conviction in this case.

BERMAN: New this morning, we have learned that Yahoo!'s CEO, Marissa Mayer, received a $1.1 million bonus for her first five and a half months running the company. The award is on top of Mayer's $1 million annual salary and $56 million in long-term stock. She's doing pretty well.

The 37-year-old Mayer recently causing some controversy after ending the policy that Yahoo! employees can no longer work from home. She says the company stock has gone up 46 percent since Mayer became boss.

SAMBOLIN: Hence the bonus you imagine, right?


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Last month, Delta announced flyers are going to have to spend more to achieve elite status in 2014. Now, three major hotel chains are also upping the ante for loyalty members.

BERMAN (on-camera): Oh, man! Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood say they're going to raise the number of award points needed to stay at many of their properties. Christine has the details this morning in this morning's "Road Warriors."

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Once again, if you are a tried and true business traveler, this may not affect you. If you are a budget traveler, a loyalty point collector, changes are going to make it a lot harder for travelers to get free stays at those major chains.

Let's start with Hilton. It's going to almost double the number of points needed for a night at its most popular properties during peak seasons. Marriott will also raise the reward points required to stay at more than 1,000 of its locations worldwide. That starts May 15th. And Starwood plans to increase the points plus cash needed for stays this hotel (ph) by 25 percnt.

When those changes kick in over the next few months, loyalty members are going to see the points they've accrued immediately drop in value. There are potentially some upsides. Starwood claims changes are going to make it easier for members to upgrade their room. Hilton says it will make every fifth night free for elite members.

That's why I say those super -- you know, the very, very high-ending business traveler, there could be some perks there. If you're planning on taking a trip any time soon, get booking, you're really going to be able to redeem your points at their previous level for a few more weeks.

BERMAN: You know, I don't know if you realize this, but one of the few things reporters can actually talk about outside the office are hotel points and frequent flier miles. So, this really hits us close to home.

ROMANS: It does. And when you look at what I reported last week about the air loyalty programs, you know, you're really going to have to fly more miles to be able to accrue more miles. So, on both ends, there'll be some changes this year, no question.

BERMAN: This is tough.

SAMBOLIN: Not good news. ROMANS: John, don't cry.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Thanks.

Forty-eight minutes past the hour. They've got each other, but some wonder if these two love birds and sports superstars still got game.


SAMBOLIN: Both the Miami Heat and the Chicago Blackhawks needed some winning shots in the final seconds to keep their historic streaks going. Did they?

BERMAN: Joe Carter has the answer for you in this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. Yes, they both had game-winning shots in the final seconds. The Miami Heat had to do it the hard way because they blew a 20-point lead but still managed to find a way to win. I guess, that's what championship teams do, though.

The streak for Miami, now up to 16 straight games and counting. Only five other teams in NBA history have won 16 games in a row. Lebron James threw down this awesome dunk in the first half, but it was in the final seconds that Miami needed him the most the with the game on the line, you give the ball to the king. Splits the defense, the layup. That's good enough for the one-point win. Miami, they have 45 wins on the season, to put things in perspective. Orlando has 45 losses.

Well, the Chicago Blackhawks also needed some magic at the end of their game. Dan Cerillo, the unlikely hero, scored his first goal of the season, the game-winner, 49 seconds left. Fans across Chicago celebrating another big win. This team is on a magical run. Halfway into the season, still unbeaten in regulation. In fact, if you go back, the Blackhawks have yet to lose in regulation since last March.

Well, golf's number one player in the world, Rory McIlroy, says his relationship with tennis star, Caroline Wozniacki is solid. It's great. Rumors suggested trouble in the couple's personal life because of trouble in their professional life. Rory recently quit Midround at the Honda Classic. Wozniacki upset in her tournament after just one round.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just because I have a bad day on the golf course and Caroline loses a match in Malaysia doesn't mean that we're breaking up. I mean --

(LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sports. Look, I'd rather keep my private life as private as possible.


CARTER (voice-over): Ooh! Now, that we got that cleared up, good. The Clippers, Blake Griffin, in my opinion, threw down the dunk of the year last night. Watch this, Jamal Crawford, the pass between the legs and the windmill finish by Griffin. Wow, here it is again. Oh, nice.

Now, Magic Johnson recently -- you guys remember -- Magic Johnson recently offered Lebron James a million dollars to enter next year's slam dunk contest. I'm thinking he should give Blake Griffin a call. Yes.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Nice. That was sweet.

CARTER: And finally, four top teams in college basketball went down last night. Number five, Georgetown upset by Villanova and Georgia Tech beat number six Miami on a last-second tip-in.

You've got twitter reaction and postgame recap, of course, at


CARTER (on-camera): Boy, can't wait for March just a couple of more -- March madness. A couple more weeks and we're going to see some crazy, crazy games.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Can I say, Joe, I just love the Bleacher Report. Thank you.

BERMAN: That Blake Griffin dunk, Joe, worth more than a million bucks. That looks like a $10 million dunk right there. Magic, better get his wallet out if he wants to see those. All right. Thanks to you, Joe.


BERMAN: EARLY START back right after the break.

SAMBOLIN: Ten million bucks?


BERMAN: More changes coming to Facebook. This could be big. Today, the social media giant will announce a redesign of the site's news feed feature. Company officials say they want to make the page more relevant. The overhaul expected to feature bigger photos, more video, and new platforms for advertisers.

A recent Pew poll said more than 60 percent of Facebook users have taken time off from the site while 20 percent have deactivated their accounts altogether. SAMBOLIN: Wow! I wonder if this will make a difference.

BERMAN: That's the goal.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, that's it for EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.

O'BRIEN: Our "STARTING POINT" this morning, a deadly cat attack at a big cat sanctuary. A lion killing a young intern. This morning, we'll be hearing from her father. Also talking to animal experts, Jeff Corwin and Jack Hanna, about what the young woman was doing inside the lion's cage in the first place.

Then, droning on and on with some snack breaks in between. It was an epic filibuster by Senator Rand Paul ended early this morning. We'll tell you why vote code pink which supports women for peace and the Tea Party, opposite sides of most issues, well, they're together supporting his efforts this time around.

BERMAN: A developing story out of North Korea, threatening a preemptive nuclear strike on America as the United Nations meets in just hours to lay down some punishments.

Plus, it is just a mess. The storm that snowed in Chicago and the D.C. suburbs now blowing people around in the northeast. We are live.

ROMANS: And the Dow is on a roll, hitting another all-time high. We're going to look at futures this morning right now. What could happen today?

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, March 7th, and "STARTING POINT" begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. We start with breaking news. Tough talk overnight. North Korea threatening a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States as the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on tougher sanctions against that nation. A foreign ministry spokesman made the threat in a statement to a state-run news agency.

South Korea's defense ministry says the North has been conducting a series of military drills on an unusually grand scale.