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Kids Observe World Down Syndrome Day; Prison Chief Murdered; Picture Prompts A Police Visit; Reid Drops Assault Weapons Ban; Seven Shot At Chicago CD Release Party; School Closures Outrage Chicagoans; Colorado Searches For Killer; Biden Keeps Fighting for Gun Control; American Academy of Pediatrics Backs Same-Sex Marriage; David Ranta, Exonerated

Aired March 21, 2013 - 13:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Check this out. Today is world Down Syndrome day. And in Romania, these kids with Down Syndrome, they're having fun, aren't they? They're all smiles as they raise awareness about the condition. One in every 691 babies born in the U.S., for example, has it.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, and that's going to do it for us together at least.

HOLMES: Together. Yes, I'm off. You carry on. Your day is not over.

WHITFIELD: I'll see you tomorrow, Michael.

HOLMES: I'm out of here.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much. All right.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tell me -- tell me how it violates anyone's constitutional right to be limited to a clip that holds ten rounds instead of 30, or in Aurora, a hundred?


WHITFIELD: Vice president Joe Biden's passionate plea there to renew the gun control debate and get legislation through Congress.

And was a hit man hired to take out Colorado's prison chief? We have the latest on the manhunt and the investigation into the shooting death of the head of the state's corrections department.

And a picture of an 11-year-old boy holding what looks like an assault rifle. It made the rounds on the internet and prompted an investigation by police and child services. We'll show you how this pans out.

This is the CNN NEWSROOM. Hello, everyone, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Suzanne Malveaux. Up first, new developments in the nation's gunfight. A ban on assault weapons will not be part of legislation making its way to the Senate floor. Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, decided to drop the proposal to keep Republicans from blocking it.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm not going to try to put something on the floor that won't succeed. I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there.


WHITFIELD: Of course, the NRA is fighting against tougher gun control. And contributions to the group's Political Action Committee are surging now. The NRA raised almost $1.6 million in February. And in January, it raked in $1.1 million. Vice president Biden teamed up with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today to push for new gun control laws. Biden made an emotional appeal for action.


BIDEN: For all those who say we shouldn't or couldn't ban high- capacity magazines, I just ask them one question, think about Newtown. Think about Newtown. Think about how many of these children may -- or teachers may be alive today had he had to reload three times as many times as he did. Think about what happened out in where Gabby Giffords, my good friend, was shot and mortally wounded. Think about when that young man had to try to change the clip. Had he only had a 10-round clip when he changed the clip and fumbled and had it knocked out of his hands, how many more people would have been alive? And tell me -- tell me how it violates anyone's constitutional right to be limited to a clip that holds 10 rounds instead of 30 or in Aurora, a hundred?


WHITFIELD: Well, let's get more on the vice president's emotional appeal for new gun laws. Susan Candiotti was at that occasion and that speech in New York. So, Susan, what's the vice president's strategy here with the backdrop of New York City, the mayor and involving a number of family members from the Connecticut shooting?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, it's always so hard to hear from the parents of those victims as well. What the vice president is trying to do, Fredricka, is to get all the support he can, especially from the public, to try to fight for more, as they put it, common sense gun control legislation.

So, he's doing these speeches so that he can try to encourage the public to call their lawmakers in wherever they happen to live to try to get more support for this type of legislation. So, he is calling for, for example, universal background checks which many people think exist but do not currently. He's asking for tighter restrictions on the size of those gun magazines and, of course, he and the president really pushing for a renewed ban on assault weapons.


BIDEN: Three months ago a deranged man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary school with a weapon of war. That's what he walked in with, with a weapon of war. And that weapon of war has no place on American streets. And taking it off America's streets has no impact on one's constitutional right to own a weapon.


CANDIOTTI: Now, of course the vice president was flanked by parents of both children and teachers there at Sandy Hook Elementary school, victims of those attacks. And one of them was a parent of Jessie Lewis. This is someone who has testified before Congress before on this very same subject. And he said, he is having a hard time trying to understand why Congress, in his view, seems to be holding back on this legislation.


NEIL HESLIN: My son, Jessie's, life was taken by a cowardly deranged person with an assault weapon. No child deserves to be murdered or brutally slaughtered the way these children were. And, quite honestly, I'm really ashamed to see that Congress doesn't have the guts to stand up and make a change.


CANDIOTTI: Now, the mother of another victim, mentioned -- without mentioning him by name, referred to Ohio Senator Rob Portman saying that this is someone who recently changed his public -- his personal opinion about same-sex marriage because of a personal experience knowing that his son is gay. She said, I hope that other people out there don't have to go through a personal experience losing someone before they possibly change their mind and support more gun control legislation and laws. Fredricka, back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Susan Candiotti, thank you so much, in New York.

All right. Now, to the city of Chicago where a fight at a C.D. release party quickly escalated into a shootout. Police say three men pulled out weapons and opened fire hitting seven people. All of the injured are in stable condition. The party was held at a nightclub where rapper Lil' Mouse and King Sampson reportedly were performing. Police believe the shooting was gang-related and so far no arrests have been made.

And now, to a heated issue in Chicago that just got a whole lot hotter. Today, city officials will reportedly announce that at least 50 elementary schools will be closed because they're underused. That's the largest school shutdown in recent history in any U.S. city. Supporters of the decision say, it makes sense financially and will improve educational opportunities for thousands of children. But opponents, many of them outraged parents, don't see it that way and they're vowing to fight it. George Howell is following the story. George, being a Chicago-based correspondent.


WHITFIELD: You know, this is a tough one because there are a lot of folks who are feeling very impassioned about this and not so clear whether it's the right thing to do.

HOWELL: And, you know, the thing about it, there's still a lot that's not very clear about what will happen. But what we know is this, Fredricka, the third largest public school system in the country. So, look, this is going to affect thousands of kids, once we hear which schools will be closed. And secondly, there's a big concern, Fredricka, that this will affect mostly predominantly African-American communities. And you talk about the city south side, people are upset about that. Again, we don't know which schools will be closed. We don't know which areas but that's the big concern right now. As you mentioned, this is reportedly going to list some 50 schools that will be closed. These are described as under-utilized and under-resourced schools.

WHITFIELD: And what does that mean, under-utilized? Meaning -- I mean the school population really is low?

HOWELL: Yes, it means the numbers just aren't there. Maybe they had more students, you know, the year before, few students now, the district sees, you know, good reason to close those particular schools. We don't know which schools yet though, that's the thing, until that list comes out. But you find parents saying, look, you're taking investment away from neighborhoods that need more investment. Take a listen to what some people had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a bit ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any part of Chicago that's trying to rebuild, the neighborhood is important. If you take them out of where they live, what does that say to the child?


HOWELL: So, we're waiting for this list to come out. We don't know which schools, we don't know where, but it's got a lot of parents upset, concerned about, you know, will this affect my neighborhood? There's no bussing schedule out, no bussing plan. So, it means that a parent will either have to drive their child to the school across town, if they have the means to do it, or put them on a city bus, and Fredricka, there's a big concern about security with that.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and that's a very poignant message one parent made talking about what is the message that's being sent to a child that the school is not accessible, not in the neighborhood, it's not fit to -- that neighborhood is not fit to have a school?

HOWELL: Right. WHITFIELD: And what's the message being sent to children? So, given that parents are being outspoken like this, what kind of responses come -- is there from the public school system? Are they responding to these parents with these concerns?

HOWELL: Well, let me read this directly from the CEO, Barbara Bird Bennett. She says this, I will soon make recommendations on underutilized schools I believe we must consolidate so we can get those students safely into a higher performing school that will have all the things they need to learn and succeed.

So, you know, when you listen to that statement, it seems like the plan is to move students from schools that are not as good to schools that are better, but the question is, can parents get those kids to the schools? And do they put them on a city bus? Is there a bussing plan? There's a lot that's still up in the air with this. People have a lot of questions. And we're anxiously waiting to see that list that is reportedly going to come out today.

WHITFIELD: Right. If bussing might work for certain age groups but not for others.


WHITFIELD: And there are a whole lot of other things to consider. OK. George Howell, thanks very much, appreciate it.

HOWELL: Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Safe travels on your way --

HOWELL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: -- to Chicago.

All right, on to Colorado now. A search for clues and a killer. Police say the investigation into the shooting death of the state's prison chief is still wide open. Tom Clemens was shot at his home Tuesday night when he answered a knock at the door. Police are looking into multiple leads but they're focusing on one case, in particular.

Jim Spellman is in Colorado Springs. So, Jim, it involves a Saudi national. What more can you tell us about this?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. Investigators here are paying particular attention to this case. It involves a Saudi Arabian man and just last week, barely a week before Tom Clements was gunned down, he denied this man's request to be paroled and sent back to Saudi Arabia to serve the rest of his sentence and parole. The undersheriff of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department tells me this is a case they are paying special attention to. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAULA PRESLEY, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, EL PASO COUNTY, COLORADO: One case, in specific, that has been mentioned, certainly that the media has mentioned, with al-Turki who was denied transfer back to Saudi Arabia and certainly that has been, you know, in the media the last -- the last 24 hours. We are assessing that information, determining whether that might have been, you know, there may have been some motivation or legitimate threat.


SPELLMAN: The man's name is Hamadan al-Turki. He was convicted in 2006 of sexually assaulting a housekeeper and essentially keeping her as a slave. Now, while police are paying special attention to this case, they tell us they're pursuing over a hundred leads and they're not taken anything off the table at this time. They don't have a suspect. They still consider this case wide open though they are paying special attention to this case involving Saudi Arabia.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jim Spellman, thanks so much, in Colorado springs.

All right, here is what we're working on for the rest of this hour. The U.S. Senate is not having it, but the vice president is still pushing a ban on assault weapons. We'll look at what's going on behind the scenes in the gun control debate.


WHITFIELD: President Barack Obama takes his message of support for Israel directly to the people. Just a short time ago the president spoke at the Jerusalem convention center to a group made up mostly of students and young people. Speaking in Hebrew he told the crowd you are not alone. The president reiterated that the U.S. will stand up for Israel's right to defend itself. He's stressed the importance of keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is taking heat for her claims about lavish spending by President Obama. We showed you what happened when our Dana bash tried to question the Congresswoman about the comments she made at a recent CPAC gathering.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, (R ) MINNESOTA: You want to talk about do handlers and there's four Americans killed?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But congresswoman, but you're the one who brought it up.


WHITFIELD: Bachmann's claim drew fire from one of her fellow conservatives, Bill O'Reilly from Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: This would be much ado about nothing if not for the fact that trivial attacks on President Obama are obscuring problems in this country. Does the president live well in the White House? Yes, he does. Is there money wasted there? You bet there is. But every other president in history has lived in comfort and it looks like President Bush the younger had a bigger White House budget than Barack Obama does. This is a trivial pursuit. And Michele Bachmann made a mistake pursuing it.


WHITFIELD: O'Reilly says Bachmann is playing small ball with the president and can't backup her criticism.

To the politics behind the gun control debate. Democrats in the Senate have decided not to put a ban on assault weapons in their proposed gun control bill, that's because it's not likely to pass. They're putting more of their efforts into required background checks. Vice President Joe Biden says he's not giving up the fight.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not about anybody's constitutional right to own a weapon. For all those who say we shouldn't and can't ban assault weapons, for all those who say the politics is too hard, how can they say that? when you take a look at those 20 beautiful babies and what happened to them and those six teachers and administrators.


WHITFIELD: Gloria Borger joining me now from Washington. Gloria, what's going on behind the scenes on Capitol Hill with these gun measures?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if a ban on assault weapons were easy to get, they would have renewed it when it expired in 2004. The truth of the matter is that it's difficult politics on both sides of the aisle. Not just on the Republican side, but on Joe Biden's Democratic side. If you take a look at the election we're heading into, there are about half a dozen Democratic senators in states like Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, they're pro-gun states and they're in a very difficult political position on this because their constituencies believe that a ban on assault weapon is somehow a violation of their second amendment rights. And so when the vice president speaks about this, he's also talking to members of his own party, Fred. Because I think he feels a real sense of frustration.

WHITFIELD: And so it's not able to really get any traction on the hill. Why is Joe Biden going about it this way? What we saw earlier today, him in New York and he's got the New York Mayor Bloomberg with him as well, family members who were victimized by the shooting in Connecticut.

BORGER: Well, Biden as you know I don't have to tell you is very visceral politician. He was there and was an important part of the ban on assault weapons when it first passed. So there's something personal about this to him. And so there is going to be a vote on a ban on assault weapons. He understands that it could get filibustered and is not likely to pass, but he personally doesn't want to give up on it although he understands that there are other parts of the gun control measure that might well pass.


WHITFIELD: Other parts like the background checks.

BORGER: Exactly like the universal background checks. There are people on both sides who can agree that a universal background check may be the way to go. And don't forget the NRA itself in the '90s supported a form of a universal background check. So that's one area. Maybe a ban on high capacity magazines could be another area. But I think with Joe Biden in particular and one of the reasons the president sort of said, okay, Joe, you're in charge of this is because he has a long history with this issue dating back to the '90s. So I think he really kind of has a personal -- not unlike Senator Dianne Feinstein of California that he wants to see it through. And if they get anything, Fred, it will be a very big deal because Congress does not like to vote on these issues.

WHITFIELD: Gloria Borger, thanks so much in Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, a surprising statement on same sex marriage from the American Academy of Pediatrics.


WHITFIELD: A group of pediatricians has announced that it supports same sex marriage. The American Academy of Pediatrics said in a policy statement, quote, "If a child has two living and capable parents who choose to create a permanent bond by the way of civil marriage, it's in the best interest of their children that legal and social institutions allow them and support them to do so irrespective of their sexual orientation." End quote.

That statement coming at a time of rising acceptance of same sex marriage. A new national poll by the "Washington Post" shows 58 percent of Americans think it should be legal for same sex couples to marry and 36 percent think it should be illegal. Psychologist Jeff Gardere joining me from New York. Jeff, good to see you.

JEF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: It's a pleasure, Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: First, your thoughts on the American Academy of Pediatrics, this statement that marriages of any kind is good for children.

GARDERE: They are giving a medical and psychological statement that has been borne out by their experiences and perhaps by research that they've done. The time has come for us to understand that there should be equality in everything we do with everyone we come in contact with. And the bottom line is same sex marriages should happen. It is healthier for children who are part of those marriages because they see that their parents are equally and fully accepted, which then allows them the psychological freedom to be able to grow in a healthier manner. There's no oppression in their homes.

WHITFIELD: And, Jeff, there are other ways in which the development of children is being gauged. Another study being published by "New York Times" this week saying that young women are outperforming young men in education and the workforce because of the decline of two-parent households. And actually finds that among people who were 35 years old, women who grew up in a single-parent family were 17 percent more likely to attend college compared to men who grew up in a single- parent family. And 23 percent more likely to hold an undergraduate degree. So why would young men suffer more than women when it comes to a single parent household?

GARDERE: Well, because what we see is young women first of all women mature quicker emotionally than boys do. And the most important fact is that we see that the boys themselves need to have that two-parent home, need the presence of a masculine figure in the home to teach them how to be boys. But here's the important thing, it doesn't have to be a man who has to teach them how to be a boy. It could be two men in the home, it could be two women in the home. The important thing is that they are offered the yin and yang, if you will, as to what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jeff Gardere, thanks so much. Fascinating studies to examine further.

GARDERE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Just hours from now a man convicted of killing a New York rabbi could walk free after more than two decades in prison. And prosecutors agree with the ruling. I'll explain right after this.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back to the NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We're keeping an eye on the markets. The Dow right now down about 75 points. So we'll keep a close watch on things.

U.S. Congress has avoided a government shutdown. Earlier today the House approved legislation to fund the government through September. The measure cleared the Senate Wednesday and now goes to President Obama to be signed into law. If the new spending bill wasn't passed before March 27th, it would have resulted in a partial shutdown of federal agencies and other programs.

A man in prison for more than two decades for the killing of a Brooklyn rabbi is expected to be set free. In 1981 -- '91 rather David Ranta was convicted in the murder of the Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger. The rabbi was shot by a man running from a botched robbery. Now it appears the case against Ranta has fallen apart. The defense and even the prosecution believe detectives coached witnesses and witnesses lied. Prosecutors think the real killer died in a car crash two months after the murder. For days prosecutors in the Jodi Arias murder trial have grilled a key defense witness. Now, it's the jury's turn to question the psychologist, Richard Samuels. Ted Rowlands is outside the courthouse in Phoenix for us.

So, Ted, Samuels claims that Arias doesn't remember stabbing her boyfriend or slashing his throat because she's suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder. And there are some big questions and big problems with that testimony, Right?