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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Kerry's Surprise Stop in Afghanistan; Bloomberg Drosp $12M on Gun Control Ads; Italian Supreme Court Decides Amanda Knox's Fate; Interview with Ted Simon; Tilda Swinton's Public Snooze; CBS Apologizes for Vietnam Episode; Sheriff's Deputy Wrestles Gator

Aired March 25, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Coming up, as prosecutors try to convince Italian judges to retry American student Amanda Knox for murder, we'll talk to one of her attorneys about it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And then, take a look at this police officer wrestling an alligator outside a school. We are going to talk with her live so you know she survived. We're going to ask her why she did this.

But first, right now, Secretary of State John Kerry is in Kabul, in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit. As we told you, he's meeting with President Hamid Karzai to talk about a Taliban and U.S. security, the turnover that is coming. Nick -- we have Nick Paton Walsh is on the phone right now. Nick, what's going on today?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I'm in the president's palace (ph). At this point, this is a key meeting for John Kerry who will be meeting President Karzai, a man with whom he is said to have a good personal relationship, having met six times since President Obama came to power.

But on the agenda here, so much to get to after through after the acrimonious atmosphere after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's visit. He will, apparently, be assuring President Karzai that U.S. direct communication with the Taliban -- remember, they have been speaking to them a while back in a bid to try and find some sort of reconciliation that may bring an end to the fighting here. He will be reassuring them that that has ceased entirely after President Karzai's comment that the U.S. is somehow colluding with the Taliban.

Also on the agenda, of course, the amending of the bad (ph) relationship frayed after Secretary Hagel's visit here, but we also understand from a senior State Department official that there's a place Secretary Kerry will not be traveling to -- and of course many had thought continuing trip on towards Pakistan would have been logical, but the secretary has decided that, given the sort of tense and historic political atmosphere in Pakistan, about to have its first election and potentially first transfer from civilian government to civilian government, he decided that that was not the time necessarily to go there, just in case his visit or the people he met somehow would be misinterpreted as U.S. backing for a particular political party.

But here on the agenda in Kabul, already fixing relationship deeply flawed (ph) that has to be strong simply in the months ahead, for the various agreements both sides need to facilitate withdrawal just when the insurgency's looking as they potentially might get a seat (ph) at some kind of table as these reconciliation talks to continue, John.

BERMAN: All right, a lot going on. Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul in Afghanistan, thanks so much for joining us.

ROMANS: All right. Meanwhile, back home, a key defense witness in the Jodi Arias murder trial is back on the stand today and he could face more questions from this jury. The prosecutor will continue to cross-examine him -- to cross-examine, rather, Dr. Richard Samuels. He claims Arias suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She can't remember details about killing her ex-boyfriend. The next witness for the defense is expected to a be a domestic violence expert.

BERMAN: Detectives in Rhode Island trying to find a student at Brown University who's been missing for more than a week now. Twenty-two- year-old Sunil Tripathy was last seen on campus on March 16. He left his apartment without his wallet or cell phone. His family says he has struggled with depression. Tripathy was on an approved leave from the school.

ROMANS: New York City mayor Mayor Bloomberg is putting his money where his mouth is in his battle against gun violence. Bloomberg is shelling out $12 million for ads targeting congressional candidates who are against tougher gun control measures. The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns is announcing the ad campaign to combat the National Rifle Association's ad blitz against universal background checks.

Here is the NRA's CEO firing back against the mayors on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Criminals aren't going to be checked. They're not going to do this. The shooters in Tucson and Aurora and Newton, they're not going to be checked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: LaPierre said members have been sending small contributions to NRA to send a message to the billionaire that he, quote, "can't buy America."

BERMAN: You guys have run a lot of congressional races. $12 million bucks outside spending, can that kind of stuff make a difference?

CONNIE MACK (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Well, depends on if he targets it and focuses it, it could. But this is a tough issue for people and if the mayor thinks that he's going to spend $12 million to keep people from getting guns, it's just not going to work. ROMANS: Well, the NRA a point to turn around say, look, here you've got a billionaire activist, anti-gun activist, and it can also inspire the NRA base to send more money in too.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: And I think Mayor Bloomberg's point -- first of all, he's not going to just spend $12 million. I mean, $12 million is just the start of it, which I think is fantastic. And he's very committed to this, and his point is that the American people, polling shows, want back ground checks. They favor assault weapons ban. The NRA comes back and says, well, people don't favor this, but the truth is that the public opinion polling indicates that people want effective gun control measures and the mayor is going to give a voice to those people.

And it's a battle that is ongoing. I mean, we sat here, we talked a lot about Sandy Hook, and now it looks like background checks and assault weapons bans are not going to be in the Democratic Party legislation going up through the Hill. And the NRA is winning again. The word should go out, and that's what the mayor is trying to say: the NRA is winning again.

CONNIE MACK: I would say that the NRA is winning because the people want their guns, and they do in the want the government to take it from them.

MARY BONO MACK (R), FORMER CALIFORNIA CONGRESSWOMAN: The woman in the center says your question was congressional districts and will it matter. Yes. Yes, it can. There was actually a Democrat on Democrat race in California and this issue was the deciding factor pretty much. Joe Baca was the incumbent member of Congress and I believe Mayor Bloomberg played in that race. And Joe lost to a fellow Democrat.

So, yes, in small medium markets, this kind of money matters and I think people are going to pay attention. But like Connie's saying, it depends on the makeup of the district, but it really can be a huge factor.

BERMAN: And we'll see if that $12 million, as you said, Richard, is just the beginning or if there is more to come.

Other news right now. An Oregon teen believed to be the first person with Down Syndrome to climb to the base camp of Mt. Everest. Fifteen- year-old Eli Reimer and his dad returned to the U.S. after finishing a two week, 70 mile hike. So what was it like to reach the base camp?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN REIMER, FATHER: You're surrounded by several mountain peaks that are well over 20,000 feet tall, and then Everest sitting in the backdrop behind one of those, obviously the highest geographical point in the world. So to be standing in that place that's a monument to all of the history that's there, but also a monument to the Himalayas, and to have Eli leading us into that point, it was surreal in a lot of ways.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: What an inspiration. They did to raise money for Eli's foundation and to raise awareness for what children with disabilities can do.

ROMANS: And what their parents can accomplish. That's really awesome for his dad, too.

All right. A hearing happening right now could decide the fate of Amanda Knox who was convicted of murdering her housemate, Meredith Kercher, back in Italy in 2007. Knox and her ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, spent four years in an Italian prison before being freed in 2011.

BERMAN: But today the Italian Supreme Court will rule on an appeal from prosecutors -- an appeal to reopen the case.

So joining us now from Philadelphia is Ted Simon, who's been part of Amanda Knox's defense team since she was first convicted in 2009. And, Ted, just explain this to us for people who aren't following the case super closely. What is going on today? Why today and what can come of it?

TED SIMON, ATTORNEY FOR AMANDA KNOX: Sure. Thank you for having me. Yes, let's understand the procedural posture that we're in today. The appellate court jury, as you just mentioned, was well within its jurisdiction and authority to determine whether or not the trial court had committed errors of law. But additionally, that appellate court jury was also well within its authority and jurisdiction to reexamine, reinvestigate, reevaluate, and ultimately redetermine what the evidence was and come up with the true facts.

Once they conducted a searching inquiry, which also included the hiring of independent experts to examine all of the evidence, whether it was with regard to prosecution witness testimony, prosecution physical evidence, or prosecution forensic conclusions, ultimately that appellate court jury rightfully concluded that the evidence as presented in the trial court was either absent, nonexistent, inaccurate, unreliable, and simply wrong. And that is why they concluded Amanda was wrongfully convicted and why she should be found not guilty.

Which brings us until today: We're before the Supreme Court of Italy. Arguments are ongoing as we speak. But the Supreme Court of Italy, unlike the appellate court jury, has a very narrow scope of appeal and review. All they're looking at is whether or not the appellate court jury acted well within its authority and jurisdiction, and whether or not they committed any error of law. We're hopeful that they will realize, as we have presented, that there was no error of law and the verdict of not guilty should remain.

ROMANS: Before we talk about some of the evidence that they'll maybe review in here, I want to ask you, obviously it was a huge relief for Amanda and her family when she was acquitted in 2011. What can you tell us about how she's feeling right now? SIMON: I would much prefer to let Amanda speak for herself when she will do so. But I can tell you Amanda, her parents, and her extended family, have exhibited unparalled patience, dignity, courage, resilience, fortitude throughout this nightmarish horrific prosecution. So they're doing as well as anyone could be expected and of course everyone is waiting.

BERMAN: Hey Ted, there's a dicey legal issue here. If the Supreme Court rules against Amanda on this appeal, then the issue becomes will the U.S. extradite her to Italy to serve time again. How likely do you think that is?

SIMON: Well, the real question we have today, and the only question before us, is the review of the Supreme Court and their narrow scope of review of what the appellate court jury did. And that's the only matter and that's the only matter that we're really focused on. So we're certainly hopeful and prayerful that the Supreme Court will realize that the appellate court jury acted well within its bounds and correctly determined she was wrongly convicted. I mean, the appellate court --

BERMAN: But Ted, if I could just interrupt -- just yes or no, would she go back to Italy to stand trial?

SIMON: The only way I can answer that question is say that Amanda and her family have abided by all rules, regulations and the rule of law. And I think what's very important here is the appellate court jury brightly illuminated the wrongfulness of the conviction, and that is simply what is before the Supreme Court.

BERMAN: All right, Ted Simon, our thanks to you.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, Ford apologizing this morning for some really startling international ad designs that made it onto the Internet. We'll tell why you they upset so many people.

ROMANS: Then an alligator gets too close to a school, so one cop takes matters into her own hands. We'll talk live about her fearless -- wow -- fearless actions there. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Smart is the new rich this morning, and if you're smart, you're in the market. Stock futures pointing higher right now. It's also the last week of the first quarter -- time to spring clean your finances.

Here's five things to do right now, and you don't have to wash your windows. First, check your credit. Go to annualcreditreport.com, you get a free report each year.

Second, refinance your mortgage. If you still have a mortgage at 5 percent, get moving now. Average rates on a 30 year are around 3.5 percent.

No. 3, rebalance your portfolio. Go to CNNmoney.com/ultimateportfolio. Take my quiz to find out what your risk tolerance is and how you should be invested in this market or any market.

No. 4, pay yourself first. Are you getting a tax refund? Maybe you got a raise or bonus. Save it before you even notice it. Put it away for college. Don't spend it. Save it.

And finally, check your insurance. Make sure your homeowner's policy is up-to-date, get renter's insurance if you rent, if it's cheap, and make sure you have the right blend of life insurance, especially if you have children. Make sure you know what your premiums and deductibles are and stay on top of it.

BERMAN: Good advice.

SOCARIDES: I'm going to take that quiz.

MARY BONO MACK: It's spring, it's spring. It's time.

SOCARIDES: I do everything you say.

ROMANS: Do you? I hate new year's resolutions about money because no one keeps them. I think the spring is a much better time to do it.

CONNIE MACK: There is much better thing to do with some of that money. Come to Florida and spend it there.

ROMANS: There you go.

BERMAN: On behalf of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: All right, so trending on the web this morning, Tilda Swinton's public snooze. The Oscar winner is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her exhibit is called "The Maybe". Now, she ha done this before in Europe, but this is the first time -- it's her American premiere of sleeping in a box. Lucky for us. She does this only a few times a year and the appearances are not scheduled, so you never know whether you're actually going to go and get to see Tilda Swinton sleeping in a box.

ROMANS: All right, if I have some extra time I'm actually going to sleep. I need to sleep.

All right, veterans group wanted an apology from CBS. They got it. The network aired this statement before the "Amazing Race" last night.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NARRATOR: We want to apologize to veterans particularly those who served in Vietnam as well as to their families and any viewers who were offended by the broadcast.

(END AUDIO CLIP) ROMANS: Part of the previous week's episode was filmed where an American B-52 was shot down during the Vietnam War. Veterans groups said using wreckage as a prop in a television show was offensive. The head of the American Legion has accepted CBS' apology.

BERMAN: Right, you have to look at this, Ford and its marketing partner are apologizing for leaked ads that show women bound and gagged in the trunks of some of their cars. The advertisements were designed to demonstrate Ford's roomy trunks.

ROMANS: One ad shows former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tying up and gagging three young women and putting them in a trunk. In another ad, Paris Hilton holds the Kardashians captive.

The ads were never approved by Ford, or the WPP Group, which oversights -- oversees the ad agency, WPP telling "Business Insider", quote, "We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP group. These were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the Internet. This was the result of individuals acting without proper oversight and appropriate actions have been taken within the agency where they work to deal with the situation."

BERMAN: Now, Ford also issued an apology. Wow, that is quite an abject apology.

SOCARIDES: I got to say it does look like there's a lot of room back there, though.

ROMANS: Yes, you can fit how many Snookis?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Ford says, "We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it never should have happened. The posters are contrary," just like what Richard says, "to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners. Together with our partner, we are reviewing approval and oversight processes to help ensure nothing like this ever happens again."

That's about 10,000 words of apologies for two cartoon ads. Clearly they offended a whole lot of people.

SOCARIDES: They were really sorry.

ROMANS: That's four words. Take much less.

CONNIE MACK: Somebody hit send way too soon on those posters.

BERMAN: I think that is one way to put.

So next we've been talking about this story all morning right here on STARTING POINT. A brave mother and on-duty deputy decided to care of an alligator problem when it gets too close to school. The whole thing is caught on video. We are going to speak with her live. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Sheriff's Deputy Jessica McGregor says it's all in a day's work. Last Tuesday she found herself up against a seven-foot alligator while conducting her regular patrol duty at the Middle School in Claremont, Florida. Classes were about to dismiss, so Deputy McGregor decided for the students' safety, she would just wrestle this alligator herself.

BERMAN: Deputy McGregor joins us this morning from Orlando, Florida. And Deputy, I have to ask you right now, you're outside, you're looking at that alligator what makes you decide that it has to be you -- that you're not going to wait for the trained professionals here?

JESSICA MCGREGOR, LAKE COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF: I didn't see or nobody else -- everybody else there didn't know what to do with an alligator. And being that we're so close to a residential area, we had kids, they were leaving school, walking down the road, the sidewalks. We had a group of kids getting ready to do some cheerleading or football practice right there on the other side of the fence. And with the trapper over two hours away or almost two hours away it was -- you have to do something right then.

ROMANS: So you took matters into your hands. How did you know -- no one else knew what to do -- how did you know how to get that thing corralled?

MCGREGOR: Well, growing up in the south end of Lake County, lots of waterways, lots of lakes and ponds. And we grew where there wasn't very many people living down there at the time. They would cross the property back and forth. And my brother and I growing up, we just -- if they got in our way, we would move them. So just as a kid learning to deal with the problem.

BERMAN: You really looked like you knew what you were doing. I mean it didn't even look like a fair fight. How big was this thing and how much damage could he potentially have done?

MCGREGOR: Well, being that he had crawled up into some bushes, had any of the kids that -- you know, our regular kids, they play basketball. If any of them had dropped a ball or thrown it out in the bushes and gone in there to get it or even just a play and they didn't see him, he could have done some serious damage to one of them. Or if he had come up on the field and, you know, he could have really scared some kids or hurt somebody. And it just didn't seem like a good idea to leave him there and wait on a trapper.

ROMANS: It looks like he was pretty mad. I mean he was sort of snapping at you at the beginning. What did you do? And then is it true that once you get the jaws shut and you kind of get behind him, then you've rendered him pretty tame at that point?

MCGREGOR: Yes. I mean, the way I -- when I got down on his back, the main important thing in my mind was just keeping my knees behind his front legs, you know, keep my hands on the back of his neck pressing down. That way wouldn't he couldn't back out, he couldn't turn around and get me. I was, you know, sitting on top of him the way I was. And once he expelled much of that energy, I was able to reach forward and pinch his nose down to the ground and pull both jaws up so that he couldn't fight me as much.

And the other officer you see in the video, he was the one that actually taped the jaw shut for me so that, you know, we'd made it a whole lot more safe.

BERMAN: What did your boss say? Are you just now like the coolest person ever at this school?

MCGREGOR: He was in a lot of shock. He didn't -- he wasn't expecting to hear about an alligator on campus.

CONNIE MACK: Is it true that during all of this, someone was driving by on a moped -- a guy was driving by on a moped and not to offer help, but instead to video what you were doing?

MCGREGOR: Yes. That's very true.

ROMANS: You know, we have our own John Berman alligator hunter here -- crocodile hunter. See Berman, John Berman, I'm not sure but John is actually -- that's a big one right there. It's not as easy as it looks.

That guy is roped up. I didn't wrestle or subdue, a much smaller one. It is terrifying. I do not know how you did it. I have tremendous admiration for you. And I would never mess with you. Jessie McGregor, well done. Congratulations. Thanks for coming in this morning.

MCGREGOR: Thank you.

ROMANS: That's awesome. All right. The "End Point" coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: It is time for the "End Point". We open up to the esteemed panel for some final thoughts. Richard you want to start?

SOCARIDES: I would. Well, tomorrow and Wednesday, the Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on the same sex marriage cases. It is a culmination of a lot of activity. I think people are expecting a big ruling. But, as I wrote in my post on the NewYorker.com on Saturday, there may be procedural issues that trip them up. But there is no question where the country and where the courts are headed on this in the long term, and that is for marriage equality, I think.

MARY BONO MACK: Well, I think, first of all, wishing (INAUDIBLE) some great luck. He's worked very, very, very hard on this. I think he's been brilliant. Also just want to say good morning to my grandson who just Facetimed me over live television, so hi to my grandson.

BERMAN: That's a great "End Point".You have 20 seconds. CONNIE MACK: And I would just like to say congratulations to Florida Gulf Coast University. They are -- we're all proud of them in Fort Myers.

MARY BONO MACK: Did you pick them?

CONNIE MACK: Yes, dear. And no, it's an exciting time in Ft. Myers with the Florida Gulf Coast University, And we just hope you keep it going.

BERMAN: They are the story of the day, Florida Gulf Coast. Right in your old district. We'll give you credit for it.

That is all for STARTING POINT this morning. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.