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Pivotal Day in Gay Rights Battle; Amanda Knox to Be Retried for Murder; North Korea's New Threats; Winter's Late Hit Buries Old Record; Tiger's Back on Top

Aired March 26, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: An historic day that could lead to a change in the definition of marriage. The rights of same-sex couples in front of the Supreme Court in just a few hours.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New threats from North Korea, threatening to strike the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and American military units.

SAMBOLIN: And it's another day of a snowy, slushy, chilly mess. Is it really spring? And now, new freeze warnings as well for you this morning.

ROMANS: Tiger back on top, and he says there's a simple reason why he's again the world's number one golfer.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Tuesday, March 26th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: All right. Let's get started with the historic, potentially pivotal day in the battle over gay rights, the definition of marriage and the definition of families in America. In about three hours, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on the constitutionality of two laws: DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage.

The court's decision expected later this year could have profound implications. For some, the occasion is so momentous, they camped out for the better part of a week, braving the snow and bitter cold to vie for just one of 250 seats available to the public.

The big question, will justices follow the seismic shift in favor of same-sex marriage?

A new CNN/ORC poll shows the number of Americans who support same-sex marriage has spiked 12 points in just six years. The rise due in part because more Americans polled say they know someone who is gay.

Shannon Travis is at the Supreme Court.

Shannon, the justices examining the constitutionality of Prop 8. What is each side arguing? SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, obviously, they'll be laying out their arguments in a short time here at the Supreme Court, Christine. Obviously, this is Proposition 8, the 2008-passed measure, voter-passed measure that banned same-sex marriage in California.

On the pro-side, the people that are actually in favor of the proposition, they argue a classic conservative argument, Christine, that the definition of marriage in the United States has always been between one man and one woman. They'll also be arguing that this is a voter-approved measure, that the voters approved it.

On the cons, the people that are actually against this, they'll basically say, you know what, this violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and also that the heightened -- heightened -- level of scrutiny should be applied when you're talking about discrimination against gays and lesbians because that is a class of citizens that historically has faced discrimination.

So, those will be the arguments that we expect to hear from both sides in the court in just a short while.

ROMANS: You know, in the court, Shannon, hearing arguments amidst growing public support for same-sex marriage, could those changes in public opinion affect the court's decision? Should the court be stepping in or should it allow the people to decide?

TRAVIS: And, Christine, that's really a key question. You cited some polls showing majority support, growing support for same-sex marriage as it stands right now, but a lot of people are saying, you know what, let the people decide, let the legislative and the electoral process in states decide where this goes.

Let people vote in members of their statehouses and Senate and approve this or through referendums or measures or what have you. A lot of other people are saying that this might be -- if they decide to allow same-sex marriage, that might be judicial activism and that this shouldn't be put to the test of a judicial solution, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Justice Kennedy, Justice Ginsberg, two justices to watch in this decision. Any idea where they could lean? Are those the two people to watch in this?

TRAVIS: Yes. I mean, we're definitely watching them. Obviously, no way to tell how this will turn out, but Kennedy is interesting, because some people have said in the past that he's been sympathetic to gay rights.

There was a 1996 ruling that he wrote, concerning a Colorado amendment, an amendment to their Constitution that basically said that Colorado couldn't pass these gay rights laws to protect homosexuals. Justice Kennedy came out and struck that down. He wrote the majority opinion on that. And also in 2003, there was another majority opinion where he struck down laws that criminalized homosexual sodomy. So, a lot of people think that he can be sympathetic.

And Ginsberg last year, she talked about Roe v. Wade, saying at the time, the opinion got ahead of public opinion, so she could also be key -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Shannon Travis in Washington -- thank you, Shannon.

SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news this morning.

Italian Supreme Court judges have decided that American Amanda Knox will again stand trial for the death of her former roommate. Knox originally spent four years in prison before an appeals court overturned her murder conviction in 2007 in the death of Meredith Kercher. Kercher was found inside their Perugia apartment with her throat slashed.

Knox returned to the United States, as you know, in 2011. There is no word yet on what exactly happens right now and if she will have to be sent back to Italy. Again, Amanda Knox's acquittal has been overturned.

We are going to have a live report regarding this. We've been waiting all morning to hear.


SAMBOLIN: They said the decision would come down at 5:00 this morning. It did. It took an extra day for the court to make this decision. It's a shocking ruling.

We'll get much more developments.

ROMANS: We spoke with yesterday, John Berman and I spoke with one of her attorneys, who said that he felt pretty confident --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: -- that, you know, the Supreme Court would not overturn this, that they had made a very good case that she was innocent, she'd be acquitted of those charges.

Now, the question is what happens next? Will she go back there for a retrial? Can she stay in this country while they have a trial? Would Italy work to extradite her from the United States?

SAMBOLIN: And will the United States, you know, make her go over, really, or will they just apply our laws to this?

ROMANS: John asked her attorney, you know, would she go back or would she go --

SAMBOLIN: Well, they said at the end -- when she was acquitted, they said she will not go back. Her family said we are not sending her back, regardless of what the Italian courts say.

ROMANS: So we'll watch that story this morning.

Also developing news overnight, North Korea serving up its latest round of threats against the U.S., says it will place units on combat- ready status for possible strikes against the U.S. mainland, Hawaii, Guam and other American military units in the Pacific. North Korea is angry over tougher U.N. sanctions and joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea. This is the latest in a string of threats by the North Koreans.

The U.S. Department of Defense has responded, saying it will fend off whatever the North comes up with.

Coming up, we'll get the latest from CNN's Matthew Chance live near the border with North Korea.

SAMBOLIN: Six minutes past the hour.

If the weather were a football game, winter would be flagged for a late hit and spring would be whistled for delay of game. Millions of people are dealing with another day of snow, slush and chill nearly a week after spring officially began. This month will go down in the record books in many parts of the country.

CNN's Martin Savidge live for us this morning. He is in Pittsburgh.

Everybody is kind of tired of this mess. I know how you feel about it there. How's the weather there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the good news for the folks in Pittsburgh is the snow that was predicted last night failed to materialize, but get a load of this.

Last year between January and March in Pittsburgh, they had 22 days above 60 degrees. This year, five, and it isn't just here.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Gone but not forgotten. The spring storm that dumped snow from the Colorado Rockies to the Jersey Shore is now a melting memory, but not before crushing snowfall records in parts of the Midwest, in places like St. Louis and Peoria, Illinois, records for march dating back a century or more were buried beneath a foot to a foot and a half of snow. Springfield, Illinois, got 17 inches. That's the most ever in a single day.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there was snow on the ground Monday in nearly half of the lower 48 states. Compare that to less than 8 percent a year ago.

And the storm system had wide-reaching effects, making roads a mess, keeping airlines grounded and delivering powerful thunderstorms, high winds and cold air to the sunny south.

In most areas, the snow only added up to a few inches, but it quickly turned into thick, heavy slush.

In Pittsburgh, even the plows had problems.

DAMIAN NUNIMAKER, PLOW TRUCK DRIVER: It's slippery underneath. It's a very heavy snow that actually, even though the trucks are heavy, it's pushing the trucks around a lot.

SAVIDGE: Snowblowers bogged down.

MARK LEFEVER, MOUNT LEBANON RESIDENT: Wet, heavy, and so that was surprising. That shocked me. I didn't think it was going to be heavy. I thought it would be a lot lighter.

SAVIDGE: Snow remains in the forecast for the next few days, leaving people here and elsewhere wondering, whatever happened to that thing called spring?


SAVIDGE: Yes, and those flurries are expected also here in Pittsburgh, but look at it this way, that white, it just -- it just allows the yellow of the daffodils to pop, doesn't it? Happy spring, everyone.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Martin. We really appreciate it. We'll check back with you.

ROMANS: Jerry Sandusky speaking out from behind bars and trying to discredit a key witness who testified against him. In recorded interviews for a documentary project called "The Framing of Joe Paterno," Sandusky questioned the credibility of prosecution witness and fellow former Penn State coach, Mike McQueary. Sandusky says McQueary was wrong when he testified he walked in on a sexually charged conduct between Sandusky and a boy abused back in 2001.

Here's what Sandusky said happened between himself and the boy.


JOHN: You don't remember slapping towels yourself, do you?

JERRY SANDUSKY, CONVICTED CHILD MOLESTER: I'm not actually sure, I would have been more inclined to do slap boxing or something like that, I'm not sure. And then I remember, he always, no matter what we did, he would always get the last lick in, OK? He would get the last smack. And then I would chase him, like, and I ran him into a wall.


ROMANS: The filmmaker, John Ziegler, says he's trying to fulfill disgraced Penn State football coach Joe Paterno's dying wish.


JOHN ZIEGLER, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Here's what I'm trying do. I'm trying get to the truth of this matter. Joe Paterno's dying wish was just find out what the truth was. No one has done that for Joe Paterno --

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: But Joe Paterno, as you know that, as you know --

ZIEGLER: I'm trying to do that, and the only way to do that is to talk to the central figure in the story, and that's Jerry Sandusky. And when there is corroborating evidence, which there is for much of what Jerry says, with regards to Penn State and Joe Paterno's lack of culpability, I will use that to make a case this was a rush to judgment.


ROMANS: In the interview, Sandusky says he doesn't know if Paterno suspected abuse. Penn State and the Paterno family have since blasted Sandusky and the release of the audio tapes. Sandusky is currently appealing his 30 to 60-year sentence.

SAMBOLIN: Authorities have now linked the murder of Colorado's prison chief to a shoot-out in Texas. Tests show the gun Evan Ebel used in the shoot-out is the same one used to kill Tom Clements at his home two days earlier. Ebel was killed. He was an ex-con and a member of the white supremacist prison gang. Investigators are still trying to figure out if he had any accomplices.

ROMANS: Prosecutors say a senior leader captured at sea nearly two years ago has turned out to be an intelligence watershed. In papers unsealed in court Monday, it was revealed that 25-year-old Ahmad Warsami pleaded guilty to being a commander in the Somali terror group with ties to al Qaeda in Yemen. Intelligence officials say he provided enormously valuable information about terror training, operatives and potential plots.

SAMBOLIN: She has been an outspoken critic of government spending. Now, Michele Bachmann faces a congressional ethics investigation for alleged misuse of funds during her short-lived 2012 presidential campaign. The allegations include under-the-table payments and fund transfers by members of her senior staff. Bachmann attorney says the Minnesota Republican is cooperating with this investigation.

ROMANS: The Dragon cargo capsule getting ready to leave the International Space Station. New video this morning of the undocking process that began just a little while ago. In a couple hours, the capsule will head back down to Earth. It's expected to splash down in the Pacific off Baja, California, this afternoon, just after 12:30 Eastern Time. This unmanned capsule arrived at the station about three weeks ago with supplies for the crew.

SAMBOLIN: Tiger Woods back on top. He has reclaimed the number one spot in the world golf rankings after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. It's Tiger's third tournament win this year and the first time he's been ranked number one, folks, since 2010. He says that there's a simple explanation, he's finally healthy.


TIGER WOODS, PRO GOLFER: I had to look at it, if I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level. I know I can be where I'm contending in every event, contending in major championships and being consistent day in and day out, if I got healthy.


SAMBOLIN: So, it's the eighth time Tiger has won at Bayville. Next up, the Masters in two weeks.

ROMANS: Speaking of contending and winning, the Miami Heat's winning streak, 27 this morning. That's more games than nine NBA teams have won for the entire season. LeBron James took over the game last night, finishing with 24 points in a 108-94 victory over the Orlando Magic. The Heat now just six away from the NBA record for consecutive wins.

SAMBOLIN: Look at that.

ROMANS: Wow. That streak is owned by the '71-'72 L.A. Lakers who won 33 straight.

SAMBOLIN: All right. They're getting awfully close now.

And lottery officials are waiting for the winner of a $338 million Powerball jackpot to come forward. This man, Pedro Quezada, caused a frenzy at the Passaic, New Jersey, liquor store where the winning ticket was sold. Quezada says he hit the jackpot but didn't have the ticket with him to prove it. So, New Jersey lottery officials say they are aware of Quezada's claim but until they see that winning ticket, they are not calling anyone the winner.

This is the fourth largest lottery jackpot ever.


SAMBOLIN: Congratulations.

ROMANS: All right, following breaking news this morning. Amanda Knox's acquittal overturned. She is now set to face a retrial for murder in Italy. We are live in Rome with the brand-new developments, next.


SAMBOLIN: We begin with breaking news.

Amanda Knox's acquittal has been overturned. An Italian Supreme Court just deciding that she will face a retrial for the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is standing by live in Rome with the very latest developments in this case.

So, Ben, where does this case go from here?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand from the presiding judges that in 60 days, they will publish their reasoning for this decision to overturn the October 2011 acquittal for Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.

Now, after he publishes that, the defense and the prosecution has 45 days to put forward their argument. So, we're really talking about, perhaps, possibly a trial some time in the middle of the summer, but it's a convoluted, lengthy process. But certainly, this ruling, which came out about 18 minutes ago from the Italian Supreme Court behind me, comes as something of a surprise.

This morning I mentioned to one of the defense lawyers, saying that he was confident that the court would uphold the acquittal.

So, yes, now, we're looking ahead to another trial, perhaps just as sensational as the last for Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people are simply going to be shocked by this information this morning. I know you said that they'll publish the information as to why they've ruled this way. Do you have any knowledge at all, anything that has been leaked as to why they ruled this way?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly, they seem to be listening to the arguments of the prosecution and were convinced by them. Now, yesterday the prosecution argued that if you look at the broad body of evidence collected in the course of the investigation, it amounts to damning evidence against the two defendants.

The prosecution argued that the defense was very good at focusing on individual pieces of evidence that seemed flimsy, but I guess the court, or we can assume that the court's decision is based upon a belief that, indeed, the body of evidence that was collected was enough to call or mandate a retrial in this case.

SAMBOLIN: And, Ben, do we know if Italy will seek her extradition for the new trial? And do we know or do we think that we know how the U.S. might respond to this?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly, if there is a retrial, she should, by Italian law, attend the trial. She can be tried in absentia, although the United States and Italy do have an extradition treaty. So, what would happen, the Italian government would have to request her extradition from the American authorities.

We understand that the American authorities, however, were not happy with the conduct of the trial that took place in 2009 leading to their conviction, and there have been previous instances where Americans have been accused and found guilty of crimes but the United States was not willing to extradite them to Italy -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ben Wedeman live in Rome for us -- thank you very much.

ROMANS: Certainly, a very surprising turn in that case. Amanda Knox will have to face retrial in Italy.

OK. Coming up, a 17-year-old's multimillion dollar idea. This kid is 17! He's a teenager who just made a bundle with a big sale to Yahoo. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. Twenty-three minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

Minding your business this morning: futures are higher, but gains are looking a little slim. The market closed lower yesterday. Optimism from the bailout deal in Cyprus faded as the trading session went on. It was, frankly, a reminder that there's a lot of work to do and some fraying nerves within Europe.

Banks in Cyprus will remain closed until Thursday. Regulators say they need more time to prevent a run on deposits. Imagine living in a country where the banks are closed, have been closed for almost 10 days. Limits on withdrawals from put in place last week, banks were closed. Long lines at ATMs have become the lasting image of this story.

The new bailout deal will break up the two biggest banks in Cyprus and shrink its financial sector dramatically. Just to put it in perspective, the banking sector in Cyprus grew to seven times the size of its economy.

One European that's about to make a big deposit in his bank. This young man, his name is Nick D'Aloisio. He's 17 years old. He's about to be worth millions.

Yahoo reportedly just bought his company. And the tech blog "All Things D" puts the price tag at $30 million. Seventeen-years-old, just sold his company to Yahoo for $30 mil. He invented a news- reading app called Summly.

In December, he told CNN's Piers Morgan how he got the idea.


NICK D'ALOSIO, CREATOR, SUMMLY: Sure. I started programming when I was 12 and have been doing apps for a few years. And the way I thought of this idea, though, is I was revising some history items and I thought if I could build a piece of technology that could take preexisting content and summarize it and condense it, it really would help people my age and everyone else consume it.


ROMANS: The app takes articles, turns it into short summaries, making it easier to read on your smartphone. Nick still has to finish high school, so he'll work from Yahoo's London office to comply with their new policy that bans telecommunicating.


ROMANS: Can you imagine?

SAMBOLIN: I love that story. ROMANS: I love that Piers is so ahead of the game, too, that he interviewed him way back in December. But, you know, cool idea. All you need.

SAMBOLIN: It can pay off.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

They're not even on the market yet, but one state is already considering a ban on Google glasses. We have the details coming up.

ROMANS: And if you're living the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone. Just go to


ROMANS: Breaking news. Amanda Knox's acquittal overturned. She'll be retried for murder in Italy. A live report just ahead.

SAMBOLIN: A pivotal day for the fight for gay rights. The Supreme Court just hours from hearing arguments for same-sex marriage.

ROMANS: Parts of the country waking up to a snowy mess. And to top it off, new freeze warnings to tell you about.

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Glad you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: EARLY START, it's not early spring. It's not spring at all.


ROMANS: It's still winter. I'm Christine Romans, in for John Berman.

It is Tuesday, March 26th.

SAMBOLIN: Maybe in some parts of the country, right?

SAMBOLIN: Send us an e-mail if you're experiencing --


ROMANS: If you're in California, Florida, Arizona, you're laughing at us, aren't you?

SAMBOLIN: Lucky, lucky.

All right, 29 minutes past the hour.

So, the big story we're following right now, about three hours from now, actually, the U.S. begins hearing arguments that could change the definition of marriage and the definition of families in this country as well. At issue, DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. The arguments are stretching out over the next two days.

And some people, look at this, they have camped out for the better part of the week.