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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Snow Storms Continue to Hit Parts of U.S.; March Madness Continues; Amanda Knox Trial Before Italian Supreme Court; Kerry in Kabul; Tom Clements Laid to Rest

Aired March 25, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Soledad has the day off today. Our STARTING POINT, a powerful snowstorm wreaking havoc in spring. From road closures to airport cancellations in the Midwest and the northeast. We've got it covered like no other network can.

BERMAN: And this just in to CNN. Moments ago, Secretary of State John Kerry making a surprise visit to Kabul in Afghanistan. Can he smooth over tensions with President Hamid Karzai?

ROMANS: Then, could Amanda Knox face another trial despite being cleared of her roommate's murder. Italian Judges ruling on an appeal this morning. We're live in Rome.

BERMAN: And jaw-dropping video of a great white shark thrashing its way into a shark cage with the diver inside. We're going to talk to the man behind the camera coming up in a little bit.

ROMANS: But everyone's favorite Jersey girl, Snooki, is here live. She's talking about her new body, her beau, and her just baptized baby boy.

It's Monday, March 25th, STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

BERMAN: We are going to begin with winter's last gasp in spring or should I say allegedly spring. From Missouri to Pennsylvania, millions of people dealing with rainy, snowy, slushy, awfulness. In Indianapolis yesterday, too many fender benders to count. You have to check out this video.

The weather rendering parts of St. Louis nearly invisible. if you squint, you can see it. Parts of Eastern Indiana and Western Ohio were under a winter storm warning through early this afternoon. The system continuing to track eastward. We have this all covered for you.

Susan Candiotti is in Dayton, Ohio. Shannon Travis is in Potomac, Maryland, and Jennifer Delgado is in the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. We're going to start with Susan in Ohio. Good morning, Susan. SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. It hasn't let up yet here, although it's a light snow but it really came down after the sun went down last night. That's a shout-out to the University of Dayton over my shoulder. As you can see some of the streets here are fairly clear. But others are far more treacherous as they're trying to get rid of this wet, slushy snow from a lot of areas and roads and highways in this Dayton area.

We are checking how much snow we've had here. Now that's about four inches. In the entire month of February Dayton only had four inches of snow. So, one snow fall took care of that for this month. It has been a crazy weather week friend the Colorado Rockies all the way to parts of Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Icy roads, slippery going near St. Louis as a pickup truck slides down a street. Just about everyone's tired of winter weather, in spring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's crazy. I'm just sick of all the snow. Like I was so ready for it back at Christmas but now I'm over it.

CANDIOTTI: Plows were tripling up in some parts of Missouri as relentless snow blanketed highways. At Lambert, St. Louis international airport, nasty weather forcing cancellations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now it could be a long day sitting around waiting. One flight has been rerouted.

CANDIOTTI: The severe weather sweeping in to the south, high winds uprooting trees in central Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe the tree fell on the car. This guy sure got it a lot worse than I did.

CANDIOTTI: Violent thunderstorms temporarily washing out Tiger Woods' shot at a number one ranking after two holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, broken tree limbs and flooded fairways postponing the tournament. At Orlando International Airport a wind gust clocked at 86 miles an hour. A jet swept against a hangar. In Kansas City, about eight inches of snow forced churches to call off services.

Coloradans were among the first to feel the storm's fury, whiteout conditions, 150 mile stretch of interstate shutdown, even a major pileup on I-25 at left a tractor trailer in flames. By late Sunday in Indiana and Ohio, skies opened up, dropping freezing rain and snow, making people wonder, where is spring?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes, it comes. This is Ohio. We get snow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody says oh, yes, spring is around the corner.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CANDIOTTI: We'll I guess we'll just have to keep trying around those corners. Let's see if we can do a public service here. I'm tall enough. No I'm not. Well, I was going to try to sweep off that sign. Maybe in the next hour I'll use a step stool.

Anyway, but in all -- in all seriousness, the roads are a little tough, especially during the morning commutes, and these winter warnings are still going to be up until midafternoon here. The snow isn't expected to stop until at least then.

BERMAN: Susan Candiotti, you are a giant in journalism. Thanks to you.

ROMANS: That's what we call gallows humor at this point, too. We're so tired of this winter. The next challenge for the weather weary the morning rush. Shannon Travis is following that from Potomac, Maryland. Good morning.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, good morning. The beauty of spring meet winter's wrath here in Potomac Maryland. It's basically been coming down pretty steady. Ever since we got here we've been kind of doing this unscientific test, Christine, of how much snow is gathering using my finger as a ruler. We're guessing about three inches right now because my finger sticks down pretty deep up in there. Again, this is the really kind of dry stuff that's sticking together pretty easily.

I just to give you a sense of where we are, we're on i-270. This is a main artery into the nation's capital into Washington, D.C., folks from as far west as West Virginia, north of Pennsylvania. This right here, we're expecting it to be a serious mess with all of the snow on the highway. You can see in the distance there, a lot of red lights, a lot of cars braking, suggesting that there's a little bit of traffic stuff going on up there.

Also, Christine, another concern, snow hanging onto the trees. Just want to show you this. You can see how the snow is pretty much just hanging on these branches. In fact some of it is actually pounding down on our heads. This is a serious concern because a lot of this snow could snap those tree branches and come down on power lines. Obviously that's a concern.

Another thing is clearing the snow, right here on this property that we're on, we spoke with the snow plow operator just moments ago. I asked him how long he expects to be out here. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZECH ZERNER, SNOW PLOW OPERATOR: As long as there's snow on the surface, as long as it sticks, once I get it cleaned up we'll be good to go. But we've got a few other sites to take care of. So it's going to be probably a long day, busy morning, to say the least.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS: I can tell you that coming in here this morning, there were some roads that we had to take that were not plowed. It was just blinding kind of whiteout. Also a lot of this conditions -- a lot of these conditions are causing a lot of school closings in the area in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, thanks so much, Shannon. The school closings are so hard because you had hurricane Sandy and then you also had this nasty nor'easter and now this, 70 school districts are worried about pushing well into June because they're running out of days.

BERMAN: Believe me it's happening, too. It is a mess. When are we going to get a break from all this? Let's bring in Jennifer Delgado at the extreme weather center in Atlanta.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning guys. We will be through with all this by tomorrow. But we still have to get through the morning as well as into the afternoon, late snow coming down from Illinois, Pennsylvania, northern Virginia, as well as Maryland. I know Shannon was just live in Potomac.

The heaviest snow fall, the pockets. Of course, Pennsylvania, that's where we're going to see the heavy snowfall as we go through the morning hours. Want to point out to you, had a nice little snow burst move into northern Virginia, now making its way into the Maryland, as well as Delaware region. Snow coming down through parts of New Jersey and of course the eastern and the western parts of Pennsylvania. So this means driving in to work this morning is going to be messy out there. A lot of these advisories and warnings are in place through about noon this afternoon, as well as some into about midnight.

As I show you some of the totals we're expecting four to six for areas including Ohio big snow for the mountains, six to 12 inches, eight to 12 through parts of Pennsylvania. And into Washington, D.C. area, we're expecting anywhere between one and three. Since last hour they did add a winter weather advisory for the Washington, D.C. area. And then notice for areas including jersey, three to five, and New York City, one to three inches of snowfall.

Now some of the travel delays will be significant, as we go throughout the morning and the afternoon. Including d.c., philadelphia, as well as into Indianapolis, as well as into Columbus. But let me show you our flight explorer to kind of give you an idea. Despite the snow out there we are looking at planes in the sky. And there it is for you. You can see the blue, those are the planes taking off and landing. So despite the mess out there, we are getting things out there. And also want to let you guys know, please let Snooki know there is going to be snow coming down through central as well as northern Jersey today.

BERMAN: News about the Jersey Shore, Jennifer Delgado, thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right this just in to CNN. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry arriving in Kabul, Afghanistan. He'll meet with afghan President Hamid Karzai as the U.S. hands over control of the prison that has been a source of friction between these two countries. It comes a day after the secretary met with the president of Iraq to try to slow down the flow of weapons and fighters to Syria's raging civil war. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is traveling with the secretary this morning. He's going to join us live as soon as he's able.

BERMAN: New developments in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. We're hearing from the former Penn State assistant football coach from behind bars thanks to a controversial new documentary. The interviews are part of a film on Penn State's head coach called "The Framing of Joe Paterno." But Paterno's family is distancing themselves from this production. They called the interviews a sad and unfortunate development that is, quote, "transparently self-serving and yet another insult to the victims and anyone who cares about the truth in this tragic story."

Coming up at 7:30 we're going to bring you some of the sound from what Sandusky said and reaction from the lawyer of one of Sandusky's victims.

ROMANS: New this morning, a Mississippi state lawmaker found dead inside the home of a former legislator. Police believe 53-year-old Jessica Upshaw shot herself yesterday. Jessica Upshaw served in the Mississippi legislature for nearly ten years for a district along the gulf coast. No word on what she was doing in Rottenberry's home.

New developments in the economic crisis in Cyprus that is affecting U.S. markets. A $13 billion plan from the European Union is now in place to bail Cyprus out. The deal shrinks Cyprus' banking system and account holders at some banks with balances above 100,000 euros, they will suffer heavy, heavy losses. The deal also calls for dismantling the popular Bank of Cyprus with shareholders and bond holders, they could be wiped out.

ROMANS: Dozens of people braving freezing weather in front of the Supreme Court. They're camping out in anticipation of the court's opening arguments tomorrow on same-sex marriage. The court will hear oral arguments on California's Proposition Eight. On Wednesday it will take up the Defense of Marriage Act. Both laws ban same-sex marriage. The decision won't come until later this year.

BERMAN: So a 15 seed is dancing in to the Sweet 16. This is a first for March madness. Florida Gulf Coast rewriting the record books, dunk city we like to call them, the Eagles knocking off San Diego State 81-71 last night. They are so much fun. They've only been a division one team for six years. They've only been eligible for the tournament for two years. They are just awesome. If they want to keep going they will have to beat the Florida Gators Friday night. Then they will make it to the elite eight.

Here are the remaining match-ups. Thursday night Wichita state versus LaSalle, Arizona versus Ohio State, Indiana taking on Syracuse, and Marquette against Miami. On Friday night's Michigan State against Duke, Kansas State taking on Michigan, and Florida against Florida Gulf Coast. There's a big CNN bracket anchor pool, Christine. Who is winning this?

ROMANS: I'm winning the anchor pool. Where are you again?

BERMAN: I am fourth from last. ROMANS: Really what I love about this is the amount of time you've spent watching college basketball versus the amount of time I've spent watching college basketball. It also shows you a little bit of analysis might be all you need.

BERMAN: You're basically telling me you're smarter than I am.

ROMANS: No, it's really fun this year. It really is.

BERMAN: I bet you it's really fun for you.

ROMANS: I had Iowa State, and I had Marquette which has been good for me. I've got Michigan State going all the way.

BERMAN: You think?

ROMANS: No, I do. I really do. I'm going to trash talk you until Thursday.

BERMAN: Fantastic.

ROMANS: All right call it a close encounter of the jaws kind. Thrill seekers getting a real scare checking out great whites off the coast of South Africa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa! Oh, my gosh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: I can't -- you got to look at this picture. Look at the way its jaws get right in there. Tourists thought they were safe inside a cage as the sharks checked out the bait dangling outside the bars. One shark tried to go right for the divers ignored the bait, went right for the divers inside the cage his entire head inside there narrowly missing two divers. As frightening as it looks no one was hurt. The man who shot that incredible video, Brian Plummer, will be our guest in the 8:00 hour.

BERMAN: I can't believe how far in the shark got there. I don't think the cages are supposed to let that happen.

ROMANS: Well, you know, would you be there in the first place?

BERMAN: No way, Jose.

ROMANS: Your brave television anchors would never be.

BERMAN: In just about three hours we may find out who won the $338.3 million Powerball. One winning ticket was sold at this convenience store in New Jersey, and lottery officials plan to hold a news conference at 10:00 eastern. This is the fourth largest jackpot in Powerball history, the lump sum payout a cool $221 million. Here are your winning numbers from the Saturday night drawing 17 did 29, 31, 52, 53, and the Powerball is 31. If you do hold the winning ticket please be my John friend.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, she was cleared of murdering her British roommate, but Amanda Knox could be charged again. Italian prosecutors back in court at this moment demanding a new trial. We are live in Rome.

Then it's hard to imagine a violent car crash and a nine-year-old's dangerous hike to try and help her father. We're going to tell you that story when STARTING POINT comes back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Happening right now, prosecutors in Italy making their case before that country's highest court to retry Amanda Knox for murder.

ROMANS: The American student has been free since an appellate court overturned her conviction in the deadly stabbing of British student Meredith Kercher back in 2007. The one-day hearing could also free Knox of slander charges, which would clear the way for her to sue her accusers.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is live in Rome with the very latest. Good morning, Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Well, the Supreme Court began listening to the case of Amanda Knox about 45 minutes ago. Now they're looking at a total of 14 separate cases today, but their decision will determine whether Amanda Knox is, indeed, free of all charges, or she will have to go back on trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): An emotionally overcome Amanda Knox is led from an Italian courtroom moments after learning she was free at last. The murder conviction against her and former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, overturned on appeal.

That was October 2011. They had spent four years in prison for the 2007 sexual assault and murder of her roommate, British exchange student Meredith Kercher. It was a tabloid case that riveted the media, attracting an army of journalists to the medieval town of Perugia, where Knox and Kercher had been studying Italian language and culture.

Knox's tearful return to her family home in Seattle, Washington, seemed like the end of her ordeal. But it may not have been the end after all. The prosecution is demanding a retrial and will appeal the conviction before the Italian Supreme Court in Rome.

The wheels of Italian justice, however, grind slowly. If the acquittal is overturned, the case could go back to an appellate court. If that happens, Knox might have to return to Italy. If she refuses, the Italian authorities could appeal to the U.S. government for her extradition.

If the acquittal is upheld, it's case over. Rudy Guede, a native of the Ivory Coast who was raised in Perugia, is serving a 16-year prison term for Kercher's murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEDEMAN: Now, before going in to the court this morning, Amanda Knox's lawyer told reporters that Amanda Knox is confident in the Italian justice system and she's looking forward to returning to Italy some day as a free woman, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Ben Wedeman, thanks, Ben, live in Rome for us this morning.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, after taking some painful hits, your wallet getting a little bit of a break at the gas pump. I'm going to tell you what's behind the price drop and whether it will last.

BERMAN: And a shocking claim from a top conservative, could a Republican presidential candidate really endorse same-sex marriage by 2016? We're going to break down Karl Rove's really interesting interview. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. So this just in to CNN: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Kabul, in Afghanistan, just a short time ago. He's scheduled to meet with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, as the U.S. hands over control of a prison that's been a source of friction between the two countries.

This, of course, comes after Secretary Kerry was traveling in Iraq, meeting with the Iraqi president, talking about contentious issues involving Iraq and Syria.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is traveling with the secretary this morning.

Nick, we have you on the phone, I believe. Can you give us the latest on this trip?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly. This is, of course, Secretary Kerry's sixth trip since President Obama's first term (inaudible) but really the most, I think, acrimonious atmosphere to walk in, still the hangover of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's trip here, in which President Karzai intimated that, in fact, the U.S. had been working with the Taliban in some way.

We have, as we landed, received news that the handover of Parwan detention facility has finally been completed. That will remove one of the thorns in the side of this relationship. And there has been a recent agreement to change force structures in Wardak province. That's also been contentious.

But there will, of course, be a face-to-face meeting between Hamid Karzai and John Kerry, the two having met for a number of occasions before and said to have a good personal relationship. But I can't really stress what an awkward time this has been to the United States and how much a mission, really, John Kerry has there to try and patch this relationship up, John. BERMAN: An awkward time indeed. Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul in Afghanistan, where Secretary of State John Kerry just landed. He will be trying to smooth over some of those tensions with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Thanks, Nick.

ROMANS: All right. "Minding Your Business" this morning: stock futures are pointing to a higher open for Wall Street when it opens at 9:30 Eastern. Investors are more confident after the tiny country of Cyprus and the European Union agreed to bailout terms overnight.

Forty-seven percent of you say you don't own stocks. So you're not feeling this rally. Well, everyone nearly is feeling the gas prices move higher. And now maybe for a time some relief. AAA says the national average for a gallon of regular is $3.67 a gallon. That's down 11 cents in a month. It's 21 cents below what it was this time last year.

But Gas Buddy says we could see another small increase in mid-April or May ahead of the summer driving season.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, we're going to hear from Jerry Sandusky for the first time since he went to prison for sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. We're going to get reaction from a lawyer of one of Sandusky's victims.

ROMANS: Plus how did this car end up on a roof?

BERMAN: Crazy.

ROMANS: Yes. You got to see this. You got to hear it. STARTING POINT back in a moment.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Let's introduce you to today's team: Richard Socarides, former senior adviser to President Clinton, now a writer for newyorker.com; Florida Congressman Connie Mack and former member of Congress, Mary Bono Mack from California. They know each other.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Thanks, guys, for coming in.

MARY BONO MACK, FORMER U.S. REP.: Thank you.

BERMAN: Twenty-eight minutes after the hour. And security is tight today for a public memorial for Colorado's prison chief. That's because there's still a lot of question about what or who may have motivated his killer.

ROMANS: That's right; Tom Clements was laid to rest yesterday in a private funeral. He was shot and killed Tuesday in his driveway. Police believe that 28-year-old white supremacist and parolee Evan Spencer Ebel pulled the trigger. He was killed Thursday in a shoot- out in Texas. It's not clear, though, if he acted alone.

CNN's Jim Spellman is in Colorado Springs.

And, Jim, officials there are taking no chances with so many high profile public officials in one place today, are they?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. The fear is that Tom Clements was murdered potentially as part of a conspiracy or a hit guided by somebody in this white supremacist prison gang that Evan Ebel allegedly was part of. They're called the 211 Crew.

Investigators are working inside the prison, and outside, to see if he was working with any other members of this gang that could potentially mean that other public officials would be at risk. So we expect to see heavy security here at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, where later this morning we will have the memorial service.

Police here are reluctant to go into any kind of detail citing operational concerns, security concerns, not wanting to put out exactly what they're doing to keep everybody here safe.

Now it's going to be a very emotional service for the family, of course, of Tom Clements, but also for Governor Hickenlooper. He's caught in a very strange position between his friend, Tom Clements, who was murdered, and his longtime friend, Jack Ebel, whose son, Evan Ebel, is the suspected shooter.