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Life on the Edge; Colorado Woman Arrested in Clements Murder; Keeping North Korea in Check; Nelson Mandela Hospitalized; Heat Stopped Cold

Aired March 28, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Edge of disaster. Right now, a landslide threatening to wipe out a whole neighborhood. Look at that.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, health crisis for Nelson Mandela. South Africa asking the world to pray for their iconic former leader who has now been rushed to the hospital again.

BERMAN: Heroes in action. Take a look at this. Police officers caught on camera pulling a man out of a burning car.

SAMBOLIN: Stopped cold in Chicago. The Bulls, the beloved Bulls, and the Miami Heat's remarkable winning streak. Something to celebrate this morning, don't you think, Mr. Berman?

BERMAN: On behalf of America, I'd like to thank you and the Chicago Bulls.

SAMBOLIN: You're welcome. Anytime. Anytime.

All right. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, March 28th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we are going to start with life on the edge, literally. A real tense situation unfolding right now in Washington state. A huge landslide destroying one home, threatening at least a dozen more. Some residents were forced to evacuate by boat.

It is a very, very nervous morning on Whidbey Island, which is 50 miles northwest of Seattle. That's where we find Dan Simon this morning.

And, Dan, tell us what happened here.


People who live in this neighborhood describe what they thought was the sound of thunder, instead it was the ground crumbling beneath them. When it was all over, you had 1,000 feet of hillside that had vanished. Right now, you have 35 homes that are either under evacuation or have been cut off from the rest of the island because a good portion of the roadway also crumbled. Here's how a couple of neighbors describe the situation.


BRETT HOLMES, WHIDLEY ISLAND RESIDENT: It was pretty scary, I got out there with a flashlight and then just kept hearing rumbling and watching more and more of it fallen away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The portion of it was always eroding but thatch of it, no, no. I mean, I lost 50 -- over 50 percent of my yard.


SIMON: Well, the concern now is that more of this hillside could crumble. But quite frankly, right now, there's really nothing that anybody can do about it. You just want to keep people safe, keep them out of this area.

But one of the big points here, John, is that nobody has been hurt.

BERMAN: Is there any one thing, Dan, that seems to have caused this landslide this time?

SIMON: Right now, they're not saying or they haven't figured it out. There has not been a significant amount of moisture, a lot of rainfall in recent days but we know in covering these events that the moisture can accumulate over time and the ground can get saturated. And perhaps that's what may have caused this.

But until you get engineers who come in and really analyze things, we're not going to know for some time, John.

BERMAN: The pictures are simply stunning, Dan. Is there any sense when or if these people will ever be able to go back to their homes?

SIMON: You know, that's a great question. I think ultimately it's going to come down to whether or not you can actually repair that hillside. You're talking about a very tall order. As I said, 1,000 feet of that hillside is gone.

The structural engineers, the geologists will have to come in here and evaluate if you can rebuild it. But, you know, short of doing that, I'm not sure anybody really wants to live over there and whether or not authorities would allow them to do so if you can stabilize the ground. We'll just have to say.

BERMAN: All right. Dan Simon, our thanks to you, on Whidbey Island this morning -- thanks, Dan.

SAMBOLIN: It's kind of a miracle that nobody was injured, right, when you see the house at the bottom of that.

BERMAN: The whole thing is just gone.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely crazy.

All right. Three minutes past the hour.

New this morning, a Colorado woman is under arrest, accused of buying the gun that was used to kill Tom Clements. Colorado's prison chief who was shot to death at this home last week. Investigators say the 22-year-old Stevie Marie Vigil gave the gun to Evan Ebel, who is believed to have pulled the trigger. Ebel was killed in a shootout with Texas sheriffs last week.

BERMAN: New this morning, a show of support for South Korea in an effort to keep North Korea in check. The U.S. military sending two B- 2 stealth bombers to South Korea to take part in annual military exercises. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also spoke with South Korea's defense minister about boosting its anti-missile defense systems.

The move comes after North Korea cut off military -- a military hot line with the South, put its artillery forces on high alert and intensified threats to attack the U.S. and South Korea.

SAMBOLIN: A few hours from now, prosecutors in Connecticut will release new information in the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. State police say much of what is contained in the documents being made public this morning is already known. But state police say there may be some new details there. The families of the victims were briefed on the new release last night.

BERMAN: Happening right now, attorneys for "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius are fighting some of his conditions for bail. They say the track star should be allowed to go back home and to travel. Not only that, they also want an end to a probation officer's supervision and require drug and alcohol testing.

Pistorius denied that he planned the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp at his home. He says he shot her after confusing her for an intruder.

SAMBOLIN: And new developments this morning about Jared Loughner. He is a man who opened fire in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011, killing six people, and seriously wounding Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. A trove of documents released yesterday show a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior before the shooting. Loughner's parents even took away his shotgun, disabled his car and asked him to get help. But nothing worked.

He is now serving a life sentence without parole.

BERMAN: Turning to a new controversy in the Trayvon Martin case, stemming from tweets by the brother of his alleged killer, George Zimmerman. Robert Zimmerman, Jr. is now apologizing.

Piers Morgan told him two tweets caught his attention, this one where he compares Trayvon Martin to one of the two suspects in the shooting of a Georgia baby. He wrote, "Facebook pics of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago's alleged killer and Trayvon Martin, #uncanny." Both teens are making obscene gestures in the photos. The caption over them says, a picture speaks a thousand words. And this one, "Liberal media should ask if what these two black teens did to a woman and baby is the reason people think blacks might be risky."

He now admits Twitter was probably not the best forum to say this type of thing.


ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, JR., GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S BROTHER: And I don't think twitter is the place to make points about what you recall a year ago, because the recollections that I have or that we have as a family specifically are very different than what can be portrayed in 140 characters.

Now, I realize those were controversial and offensive. And I did publicly apologize for them. I don't think it was the right thing to do that way.


BERMAN: The right thing to do that way.

Zimmerman says he was trying to make the point that the media has been dishonest in his portrayal of Trayvon Martin.

Coming up at 7:30 Eastern Time on "STARTING POINT", Soledad will talk with George Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, and Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin's family.

SAMBOLIN: Former South African President Nelson Mandela is back in the hospital this morning. The South African government released a statement saying the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader is battling a lung infection again. It's the fourth time Mandela has been hospitalized over the past two years.

Errol Barnett is following all of the developments for us. He is live in Johannesburg.

And, Errol, we understand that this time, he was actually rushed to the hospital for that lung infection. What can you tell us?

ERROL BARNETT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, what the government has confirmed to us this morning is that Nelson Mandela was admitted to the hospital at midnight, in between Wednesday and Thursday and he is he there now at a location the government is not disclosing.

What that tells us is that there is some sort of medical issue that his 24-hour team of doctors which he enjoys around the clock, weren't able to help treat whatever his ailment was at that time. Now, we know, the government is confirming, it's this recurring lung infection. You may remember in December, Nelson Mandela was in fact airlifted from his rural home in the south of the country to the hospital to be treated for a lung infection and also have gall stones removed. He ended up being in hospital for some 18 days. And there was a three-month follow-up earlier this month in which he was admitted to the hospital and the government said as much, this was a scheduled follow-up.

Those comments are absent at this time. And you put that into context, the fact that he was admitted at midnight, that his staff wasn't able to tend to him and that the government is not saying this was a scheduled follow-up are reasons for concern. And just an interesting note, Zoraida, you know, Nelson Mandela famously spent 27 years in prison while struggling for freedom and equality, but he also suffered from tuberculosis during that time. He's continued to have these respiratory issues, lung infections as time has gone on.

And he is 94 years old. So I think that the South Africans -- they are quite concerned that this very fragile, very old icon is now not feeling well and in the hospital.

SAMBOLIN: Errol Barnett, live for us, we're going to continue to check back in with you. Thank you.

BERMAN: A lot of people watching that this morning all around the world.

SAMBOLIN: And the president there is asking for the people of South Africa and the entire world to pray for Nelson Mandela this morning.

BERMAN: And indeed the entire world is.

Nine minutes after the hour.

Three quick-thinking police officers in Ohio save a man from a burning truck and their heroic actions were all caught on tape. Take a look at this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man in the car!



BERMAN: That is crazy. The man's truck burst into flames after crashing into a building. The cops used batons to smash open the windows. One officer used a knife to cut the driver's seat belt and pull him to safety. The man was treated for smoke inhalation.

SAMBOLIN: Really scary situation there, right, you wonder if that would explode, yet there they are trying to get the man out. That's wonderful.

Ten minutes past the hour.

The streak is over. LeBron James and the Miami Heat stopped cold in Chicago. The defending NBA champ entering last night's contest against the Bulls with the 27-game winning streak, six shy of the all- time record.

I'm sorry, Miami. But Chicago refused to back down in a very physical game, holding on for a 107-97 victory. The win clinching the playoff spot for the Bulls while the Heat lost for the first time since February 1st. King James, a little philosophical in defeat.


LEBRON JAMES, MIAMI HEAT: You know, this is a special team and how we are on and off the floor, you know, it's going to be hard to remember everything but, you know, ultimately like you said, we want to win an NBA championship. Along those rides you have moments throughout those rides where you can reflect on. This is one of them.


SAMBOLIN: Seriously?

BERMAN: He was also complaining because the Bulls were so physical. The Bulls played tough last night.

SAMBOLIN: And they were missing two key players.

I didn't know they won this morning. You told me and I was so excited.

BERMAN: I congratulated her, I thanked Zoraida for helping the Bulls to overcome the Miami Heat.

SAMBOLIN: I had no idea. Even Joakim Noah was missing.

Congratulations, Chicago Bulls. And I'm very sorry, folks, in Miami, or anybody else that's a Heat fan this morning.

BERMAN: You're very kind.


BERMAN: Eleven minutes after the hour.

Both sides have spoken. Now, it is up to the justices of the Supreme Court. Will they issue a landmark ruling on same-sex marriage? We'll look for some clues from the bench.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, Justin Bieber strikes back. His response to critics who say he is headed for a breakdown.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 14 minutes past the hour.

It is likely to be a few months before the Supreme Court actually issues a ruling. But this morning, same-sex couples who are legally married may have a reason to be optimistic. The justices heard arguments yesterday on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA as it's known passed by Congress back in 1996.

At issue, whether legally married same-sex couples should enjoy the same benefit as heterosexual couples.

CNN's Joe Johns has more from Washington.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Same-sex marriage, day two, at the Supreme Court. Edie Windsor of New York, who got hit with a tax bill for $330,000 when her wife died, was on hand to hear what the justices had to say about her case. She's cautious, but optimistic.

EDIE WINDSOR, PLAINTIFF OPPOSING FEDERAL RESTRICTIONS: I felt we were very respected. And I think -- I think it's going to be good.

JOHNS: Questions from five justices made it plain that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies benefits from legally married same-sex couples, has its critics on the courts because it treats gays and lesbians differently.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Two kinds of marriage, the full marriage and then the sort of skim-milk marriage.

JOHNS: Justice Elena Kagan tour into former Solicitor General and DOMA defender Paul Clement about what Congress was thinking when it passed the law 17 years ago.

ELENA KAGAN, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: And I'm going to quote from the House Report here. It's that Congress decided to reflect and honor a collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.

JOHNS: But perhaps an even larger problem for the Defense of Marriage Act was that the federal government has started regulating as many as 1,100 spousal benefits in an area of the law that has traditionally been left to the states. Justice Anthony Kennedy is seen by many as the potential swing vote.

ANTHONY KENNEDY, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: You are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.

JOHNS (on camera): The court is likely to meet later this week in chambers to take a first vote and provided they don't decide to rehear the case, they would likely begin the process of crafting a decision. We're not likely to hear anything from the court on this until late June.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Joe.

And later this morning on "STARTING POINT", Soledad O'Brien will speak to Roberta Kaplan. She's the lawyer representing Edith Windsor who argued against the Defense of Marriage Act in the Supreme Court yesterday. That's in the 7:00 hour, right here on CNN.

BERMAN: It is 17 minutes after the hour right now.

Let's bring you up to speed. Here's Christine Romans with the morning's top stories.


Happening right now:

A massive landslide destroying one home and threatening more than a dozen others this morning on Whidbey Island in Coupeville, Washington. It's about 50 miles northwest of Seattle. Many residents evacuated by boat. At least 17 homes can be accessed. The good news, no one has been hurt.

An autopsy found more than 30 bruises, cuts and other marks on the body of little 3-year-old boy adopted from Russia. Max Shatto's adoptive family in Texas says he often tried to hurt himself. The medical examiner ruled the death in January accidental.

Russian officials have criticized the handling of the case. Russia banned American adoptions in December.

President Obama expects to see an immigration reform bill on the floor of the Senate in April. He talked about the legislation yesterday during interviews with Spanish language broadcast networks. He said the Senate's bill focuses on key points.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're paying attention to border security. They are creating a pathway for people to earn their citizenship. They are improving the legal immigration system.


ROMANS: The question is how, how will they agree to do that and will it be successful? The president also said he's planning to visit Mexico and Costa Rica during the first week in May to discuss trade issues and border security.

All right. Justin Bieber fighting back you guys against a string of bad press the pop star has received lately. I mean, have you been watching the news flow about Justin Bieber? He's thrown up on stage, lashed out a paparazzi, ran around London shirtless and reportedly spit on his neighbor. Are these all signs the 19-year-old is on the verge of a breakdown? In an interview with "Us Weekly", the singer defended himself, saying, quote, "I'm young and make mistakes. That's part of growing up. This business can break you down. I have a stream team around me, my family, and all the fans. The love overcomes the negativity."

BERMAN: You know, part of being young is apparently running around shirtless repeatedly to a lot of different locations.

ROMANS: I brought this up before. But the pictures of Justin Bieber on his 19th birthday are confounding to me and maybe it means I'm 110 years old.

SAMBOLIN: No, no, no.

ROMANS: His pants, Zoraida --

SAMBOLIN: It does not mean you're 110 years old. What it means that his frontal lobe will not develop until he's 28 years old. So we just have a lot of this.

BERMAN: It's like talking about men like men don't develop --

SAMBOLIN: It is indeed. That is a fact. Look it up.

BERMAN: Scientific --

SAMBOLIN: No, no, it is.

ROMANS: The frontal lobe in men --

SAMBOLIN: It takes longer to develop. At the end of the day you have to be very patient.

ROMANS: The frontal lobe is the thing that is judgment.

SAMBOLIN: It's all about judgment.

BERMAN: I did not come into work thinking my frontal lobe was going to be attacked this morning. But I appreciate it.

SAMBOLIN: It's not. You're in your 40s. So you're fine.

BERMAN: I can't win.

All right. Twenty minutes after the hour.

And think about the money you have in your bank account right now. Now, imagine being told by the government that you can only take out a little more than 350 bucks of your own cash.

SAMBOLIN: That is insane.

BERMAN: That is the reality in Cyprus right now. This is a really big deal. We're going to take a closer look, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

Christine Romans is minding your business this morning.

Christine, the S&P 500 still within reach of that record.

ROMANS: It is. But, you know, futures are pretty mixed this morning. And I think you're really seeing the pause button hit U.S. stocks this week, a lot going on in Europe.

And remember, the S&P is so close to this record, the Dow has been shattering records again and again. We're going to have a three-day holiday. The markets will be closed tomorrow for Good Friday.

You typically see activity that's not so boisterous when you're heading into a three-day weekend. But I want to tell you, in Cyprus, there are armed guards at the banks. The banks are now opening after being off for 12 days.

Tellers are telling customers -- please, please, don't vent your frustrations at us.

Why are people frustrated? The banks have been closed and there are strict limits on what residents can do with their cash.

Imagine your bank telling you this: you can only take out so much each day. In this case, 300 euros. It's about $383. If you go outside the country, you can only spend 5,000 euros a month. If you want to take cash with you on your trip? You can only take about 3,000 euros, checks, they're not going to cash checks but they're going to pay things into accounts and you can only take out as much as they tell you.

This is all to prevent a run on the banks. Basically, when everyone panics and takes out their money, it cripples the financial system. They don't want that to happen. They've got strict capital controls right now in Cyprus.

Why does that matter here? It's a reminder of the deepening recession in Europe. It's a reminder of the fragility of the financial recovery in Europe.

And there's some concern that might set a precedent for other nations in the eurozone. This is the fourth bailout we've seen in the eurozone. They're -- Europe as a zone is the biggest trading partner of the United States, closely watching what happens in Cyprus.

The United States has recovered. The U.S. economy is recovering. The data this week clearly shows it's not as robust as we'd like but the U.S. is going in the right direction. Cyprus tells us and reminds us that Europe is going in the wrong direction.

And so, that's something that can hold back investors and hold back stock, especially if people are looking for a reason to take money off the table after a 10 percent, 11 percent run in the stocks over the last year. Cyprus is a reminder to be cautious. SAMBOLIN: I find it remarkable they can actually do that, that they can take over people's accounts like that.

ROMANS: It is a bailout, a crisis. They are out of money, you know?

SAMBOLIN: Crazy. Thank you, Christine, appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

A few hours from now, the world will witness a rare and symbolic act by Pope Francis. A live report from Rome, coming up.


BERMAN: Happening right now: a landslide has people in one neighborhood afraid that the bottom will drop out at any moment.