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Seven Marines Killed In Training Accident; Police: Women Lied About Senator Menendez; New Arrest In Daniel Pearl Kidnapping; 150,000 Plus Attend Papal Inauguration; Missing Teacher Left Bar Alone; Alzheimer's Impact Grows; Obama Leaves Tonight For Israel; Supreme Court And Same Sex Marriage; "Human Rights Are Gay Rights"

Aired March 19, 2013 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And we begin this hour with breaking news. Seven Marines were killed in an explosion during a Marine training exercise. It happened late last night in Western Nevada.

Let's head straight to the Pentagon and our correspondent there, Barbara Starr. Can you tell us more about what happened, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, the initial indications are that some type of mortar shell might have exploded while the Marines were at this remote training base in Nevada. Seven Marines killed. A number of wounded and medivaced to nearby hospitals, we're told.

The marines now, of course, have the entire incident under investigation to try and determine what happened. They believe it was a 60-millimeter mortar shell that somehow exploded, causing this tragedy. Now seven military families getting the worst possible news on this day, being notified that their Marines were killed in this training accident -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Do they often use live mortars in training exercises?

STARR: Well, there is live ammunition training in the U.S. military. It happens. What we don't know is whether this was a live round or some kind of other dummy round, perhaps, you know, a blank, if you will, that somehow also exploded, maybe causing these injuries. The Marines just aren't saying yet. All they're telling us is that it's under investigation.

COSTELLO: Barbara Starr reporting live from the Pentagon.

Now let's turn to politics, a senator and a sex scandal and new claims that it was all a lie. For nearly four months, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has vehemently denied claims from three women in the Dominican Republic.

Those women said they were prostitutes and Menendez was their customer. Now according to police, all three women say they made up the story for an attorney who offered them about 400 bucks each. An angry Menendez had this to say to Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a web site can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they've done successfully.

Now nobody can fine them, no one ever met them, no one ever talked to that, but that's where we're at. So the bottom line is all of those smears are absolutely false and, you know, that's the bottom line.


COSTELLO: That interview was conducted on February 4th. Joe Johns is in Washington today. So, Joe, if this really was an orchestrated smear campaign, who was behind this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question and there's a lot of investigation to try to determine that. This is important to Senator Menendez, Carol, because it's more support for his position that the claim that he paid for sex with prostitutes was flat-out false.

The police in the Dominican Republic saying, as you reported, that they've now found out that all three women who claim they were with Menendez were actually paid by a lawyer to make false claims. The women were paid several hundred dollars a police.

The police said the women were led to believe they were doing this in connection with a divorce case. Menendez always said the prosecution's story wasn't true. It was first reported by the conservative web site, "The Daily Caller."

"The Caller" reported today that it will continue to investigate the story. Menendez, of course, has other issues, including an FBI investigation into the business dealings of an eye doctor, Dr. Solomon Melgan, who's a big Menendez donor.

Menendez took several flights on the doctor's plane and had to reimburse him for a couple of trips. So, Carol, it's not over yet.

COSTELLO: All right, Joe Johns, I'm sure you'll continue to follow the story today. Thanks so much. Joe Johns reporting live from Washington.

Other top stories this morning, nearly 11 years after the murder of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, there's a new break in the case. The man believed to have facilitated pearl's kidnapping has now been arrested in Pakistan.

Back in 2002, Pearl was kidnapped, tortured, and then killed. The suspected mastermind of the September 11 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, was once arrested and confessed to Pearl's murder, but he's never been charged with the crime.

This morning, before a crowd of at least 150,000 people, Pope Francis was officially inaugurated as the 266th bishop of Rome. He appeared in St. Peter's Square in an open air vehicle, spending 17 minutes kissing babies and blessing the sick. In his homily, he called for Catholics to be protectors of creation and God's plan. More than 300 world leaders attended the ceremony including Vice President Joe Biden.

Tomorrow's the first day of spring, but you wouldn't know it by the looks of things in the northeast, 14 inches of snow in the forecast for parts of New England, prompting school closures from Massachusetts to Maine.

And check out this incredible I-Report video from Pearl, Mississippi. Yes, those are golf ball-sized hail, covering the ground there yesterday, denting this guy's car and shattering his windshield.

Now let's head to New Orleans, in the case of the missing schoolteacher. Nearly three weeks after Terrilynn Monett walked out of a bar and vanished, the mystery deepens. Police tell CNN they've scoured nearby surveillance cameras and even take a look at the traffic lights.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in New Orleans. Did they manage to find any clue, though?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Carol. Good morning. We're at Bayou St. John, and this is where investigators and search teams will resume their search this morning. Right now, divers are getting their equipment ready.

But I want to share with you a new development and CNN learned yesterday. For the first time publicly, the New Orleans Police Department acknowledged that surveillance cameras and red light cameras caught missing teacher Terrilynn Monett making at a nearby intersection here at around 5 a.m.

Now Carol, that really explains why search teams and investigators are focusing their search in this area. As you know, we've been here since last week, and investigators have been very tightlipped about the information they've released so far about the investigation -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Searchers will be using that new equipment that you mentioned. Tell us more about that -- Nick.

VALENCIA: Yes, on Saturday, we were there when Equusearch, that's that independent search and rescue team based in Texas that came out last week to help local authorities with their search, we were there when they ran into a little bit of trouble with their sonar device.

These bayous and waterways aren't that deep, Carol, at their deepest, between about 6 feet and 8 feet deep. They were in a shallow portion when their sonar device got caught underneath their device and the ground.

Today, they're going to use a more high-powered device in hopes of spotting any signs of Terrilynn Monett or her car. Now it's worth mentioning that this area has already been scoured before by investigators, but they want to be very thorough and double check. There was a car that they found in this waterway and they want to make sure, leave no doubt that it's not Terrilynn's Monett car or vehicle. Once we get developments later this morning, we'll be back in touch with you -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, we'll be listening. Nick Valencia reporting live from New Orleans this morning.

It is the civil rights issue of our time, same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court begins hearing arguments next week. Coming up, we'll talk about whether political pressure will weigh on the justices.


COSTELLO: It's 10 minutes past the hour, time to check our top stories. A new report from the Alzheimer's Association shows the disease becoming more widespread and costlier for care. The report says one in three older adults dies with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Those deaths increased 68 percent from 2000 to 2010. Payments for Alzheimer's care for seniors are expected to reach $1.2 trillion by mid-century.

Last-minute preparations underway for President Obama's trip to Israel. He leaves later tonight. It will be the president's first visit to Israel since taking office. He visited there once while campaigning back in 2008. Mr. Obama will spend several days meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before wrapping up his trip on Saturday in Jordan.

And 23 years after one of the nation's biggest art robberies, the FBI is still looking for those responsible. The FBI says the statute of limitations has run out, so no one can be charged at this point. The art, which was once valued at $500 billion, has never been recovered.

In just over one week, the Supreme Court weighs in on what some have called the civil rights issue of our time. I'm talking about same-sex marriage. At issue, challenges to California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.

And the federal defense of marriage act, DOMA making news after former President Bill Clinton publicly urged the nine justices to overturn the rule he signed into law. Now his wife, Hillary Clinton, is expressing her support for same-sex marriage.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: LBGT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones. And they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage.


COSTELLO: The Clintons are joining prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican who is publicly backing same-sex marriage. But will that political pressure have any impact on the nation's highest court?

Joining me now is CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and the executive director and co-founder of "GOProud," Jimmy Lasalvia. Thanks to both of you for being with us this morning.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Jimmy, I want to start with you because there's a new poll in "The Washington Post" that shows a surprising 58 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. That is a sea change from just a few years ago. To what do you attribute that rise?

LASALVIA: Well, I think that all Americans are thinking about this issue differently now. Everyone has a gay person in their life, and they want the best for their gay family and friends. That's certainly what we saw over the weekend with Senator Portman's announcement.

So everybody's thinking about this issue differently and the truth is we're at the tipping point. And with any issue, the tipping point comes and moves very, very fast, and that's what we're seeing happen on the issue of same-sex marriage.

COSTELLO: And Jimmy, we're seeing more and more politicians coming out and supporting same-sex manger. Is it now considered a sort of safe issue, even for Republicans?

LASALVIA: Yes, we're living in a very different political reality. It's not 2004 anymore, being against same-sex marriage used to be a political winner for Republicans, and now it's the opposite.

And so more and more Republicans are coming to terms with the new reality that we're living in, but more than that, they are thinking about how this issue affects their gay family and friends also.

So all politics is personal and it's a very personal issue for almost every American.

COSTELLO: OK, so, Jeff, that brings me to this next question. So when the justices start hearing these cases next week, will they weigh public opinion in their decision?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly they won't say so explicitly, but there is no doubt that the Supreme Court operates in the real world. And they understand how much the public has shifted on this issue.

And even -- and there is a split, frankly, on the court between the justices who think the constitution means precisely what it meant in the 18th Century, and it never changes, and those who think that the constitution lives.

That it changes at least somewhat with the times and that's why I think you can expect a very closely divided court on these issues next week.

COSTELLO: OK, so I'll ask you to make a guess, which conservative justice might be swayed?

TOOBIN: I think there's really only one possibility and that's Anthony Kennedy. Anthony Kennedy is mostly a conservative, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987, but he's the author of the court's two most important gay rights decision.

Lawrence V. Texas, which said that states could no longer ban consensual sodomy among consenting adults and the Romer case from Colorado. So he is certainly the most likely of the five Republicans on the court to join the four Democrats, at least on the defense of marriage act case, if not also on the Proposition 8 case. There are two same-sex marriage cases to be argued next week.

COSTELLO: So, Jimmy, if things don't go your way, if the justices like, you know, I'll just shorthand it, rule against same-sex marriage, rule out its constitutionality, what will you do?

LASALVIA: Well, this issue is being talked about in every state. And the tenth amendment leaves marriage and family law to the states. And I think that there will be a state-by-state recognition that gay people should have the opportunity and the ability to get married.

And that will take just a longer conversation that we're having as a nation and that's what we'll do. We'll continue to take it state by state and show that marriage a good for everybody including gay people.

COSTELLO: And last question for you, Jeffrey. Many people have said the same-sex marriage issue was the civil rights issue of our time. Is it?

TOOBIN: Well, that's really, I guess, a decision that everyone can make for themselves. It is certainly true that the progress made by gay people in terms of public acceptance, in terms of legal change, has gone faster than women's rights, which, you know, it was from 1920 when women got the vote to the 1970s when they got legal equality.

African-Americans, 200 years, arguably, and certainly, gay rights has the gone lightning fast in comparison, and next week, we'll know whether the Supreme Court accelerates that progress or holds it back.

COSTELLO: Yes, we will. Jeffrey Toobin and Jimmy Lasalvia, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Still ahead, our "Talkback" question today. What did we learn from the Iraq war ten years later? or tweet me @carolcnn.


COSTELLO: Now's your chance to "Talkback" on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning, what did we learn from the Iraq war? Time flies, except when it comes to war, especially the kind of wars we fight today. They seem never-ending, but let me take you back ten years to March 19th, 2003.


FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.


COSTELLO: American military hardware made quick work of Saddam Hussein and his army. Saddam's statue fell less than a month after the first tomahawk missiles were fired. In May of 2003, Mr. Bush infamously declared, mission accomplished, aboard the "USS Abraham Lincoln."


BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended and the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed, the transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave.


COSTELLO: Of course, there was no mission accomplished, and it was only later we learned Saddam Hussein was bluffing. He had no weapons of mass destruction. It didn't matter, though. We were stuck in Iraq, suffering through IED attacks, Abu Ghraib, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.

According to a new report by Brown University, 190,000 have been killed in Iraq, 70 percent of them civilians, 4,488 of them, U.S. service members. The war cost you, the taxpayer, $2.2 trillion, the cost of rebuilding Iraq, $60 billion, although most of that money went to contractors and the military police.

The rest was lost to fraud. As far as making America safer, well, Saddam was a cruel dictator and you could argue he was unstable, but, again, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and no ties to al Qaeda.

Talk back today, what did we learn from the Iraq war? or tweet me @carolcnn.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me. A training accident has claimed the lives of seven Marines in Western Nevada. It happened following an explosion last night at the Hawthorne Army Depot.

Several other Marines from the Second Marine Division were also hurt. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, who's from Nevada, addressed the accident moments ago from the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: We don't know exactly what happened. It was a violent explosion. We know that. My thoughts are with those who are injured and of course, the families of those who lost loved ones. Details are emerging. We really don't know. The area's been blocked off. I understand it was quite a big explosion.


COSTELLO: This morning, before a crowd of at least 150,000 people, Pope Francis was officially inaugurated as the 266th bishop of Rome. He arrived at St. Peters Square in an open-air vehicle, 130 world leaders, Including Vice President Joe Biden, attended this morning's mass. Five hundred priests were called in to deliver communion.

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, but snow is falling in the northeast, prompting school closures from Massachusetts to Maine and check out this incredible I-Report video from pearl, Mississippi. Those aren't golf balls. Golf ball-sized hail covered the ground yesterday, denting this guy's car and shattering more than one windshield.

A 6-month-old baby in Chicago killed by gunfire last week was shot once, not several times, as previously reported. And now Chicago police say she was sitting on her father's lap in a minivan when she was killed. Today the young murder victim will be laid to rest. George Howell is live outside the church. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, good morning. You know, the story of Janiala Watkins, let's put it in perspective, we are talking about the youngest victim of gun violence in the city of Chicago.

This is a case that's sparked outrage, has a lot of people talking, looking for solutions. In the last 30 minutes, a lot of activity. You can see dozens of people lined up outside the church.

Minutes ago, we saw the hearse pull up. As I mentioned, a lot of people are talking about solutions, looking for ways to curb the problem of gun violence in Chicago. But when you talk to the pastor of this church, he says, despite the pain we're all feeling today, in this community, there is hope. Take a listen.


PASTOR COREY BROOKS, NEW BEGINNINGS CHURCH OF CHICAGO: I do believe that although this was a hideous crime and a horrendous situation that happened in our community, I do believe that the collaboration of people working together, police, politicians, parents, and preachers, and the community all together, it is making things better.


HOWELL: Pastor Corey Brooks says that Jonathan Watkins, he says that he is not a gang member, but also says that he's no boy scout. But that goes against what police say. Police say he is a known gang member, Carol. That he does have a past of misdemeanors and also that he was the intended target of this particular shooting. They say he could be more cooperative in the investigation, but he is talking to them.

COSTELLO: George Howell reporting live from Chicago. Thanks so much.

Rapper Lil' Wayne, he's out of the hospital, but his hospital stay is shining the light on a dangerous combination of drugs that involve cough syrup and soda. We'll find out what's going on, next.