Return to Transcripts main page


Manhunt Underway in Texas; Texas Officials Murdered; South Korea's Warning to the North; North Korea's Nuclear Rhetoric; New Killer Strain of Bird Flu; Louisville Advances Despite Adversity; Crashing a Walmart; Waiting for the Bell

Aired April 1, 2013 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Terror in Texas. The district attorney gunned down just weeks after the murder of his deputy. The killer or killers still out there this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Tough talk on the Korean Peninsula, but this time, it's the South vowing to strike if the North crosses the line.

BERMAN: All right. So, check out what looks like a frightening scene on a New York City street. Witnesses say they saw an armed abduction, but was this all an elaborate hoax?

ROMANS: All right. A gruesome injury, then a rousing finish. The Louisville Cardinals headed to the final four without a fallen warrior.

BERMAN: What an amazing thing that was.

ROMANS: Yes. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Monday, April 1st. Happy April Fool's Day, I suppose. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East. We're going to start in Texas this morning where an intense manhunt is under way. At this moment, investigators are searching for the killer or killers who are apparently targeting public officials for assassination.

The latest victim, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland. He and his wife gunned down this weekend in their home, southeast of Dallas. Now, this is the same county where less than two months ago assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was shot and killed as he walked to work.

This morning, as you might imagine, there is heightened security at the courthouse, that community very much on edge. Our George Howell is there, live from Kaufman, Texas, this morning with the developing story. George, authorities right now, are they linking officially these murders?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, they're not at this point, but look, it's a mysterious murder case. No new leads in the case. Investigators haven't narrowed down any suspects in this mysterious murder.

But we are hearing from public officials here in Kaufman who say this. They say that the men worked very closely to the on the cases that they prosecuted, similar cases. They believe that this may have been a revenge hit.

So that's what we're hearing from public officials here. Though police, they are not officially linking these killings, the unanswered questions here in Kaufman have this community consumed with fear.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to find you. We're going to pull you out of whatever hole you're in. We're going to bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.

HOWELL (voice-over): A promise from Kaufman County, Texas, District Attorney Mike McLelland two months ago to the unknown killer of an assistant D.A. in his office. A promise, though, he would never see fulfilled. Saturday night police found the bodies of the D.A. and his wife, Cynthia at their home.

DAVID BYRNES, KAUFMAN COUNTY SHERIFF: They both had been shot and we are in the process of completing the crime scene workup right now.

HOWELL: An investigator says police found several shell casings inside the home from a high-powered rifle.

BYRNES: It's pretty obvious it's unnerving, and it's unnerving to the law enforcement community, it's unnerving to the community at large.

HOWELL: There are no suspects and the sheriff's office has not officially said whether the McLellands' deaths are connected to the killing of Kaufman County Assistant D.A. Mark Hasse who was shot outside the county courthouse in January. The sheriff says extra precautions are being taken to protect county elected officials, as well as the public.

BYRNES: There will be complete security at the courthouse tomorrow, visible security.

HOWELL: McLelland said his co-workers were like a family, but they all knew their job came with risks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you deal with bad people on a regular basis, you know that there's always the potential for these bad people to do something bad to you, because they've already done something bad to somebody else. And so they could always concentrate and backlash on you.


HOWELL: So when you talk about the D.A.'s office here in Kaufman County here in Texas, it's a very close-knit office, and Hasse's death, it had a big impact on that office. McLelland was determined to find Hasse's killer.

And now it's still unclear who will take over the D.A.'s position. McLelland and his wife, they leave behind two daughters and three sons. One of those sons is a Dallas police officer -- John.

BERMAN: George, you know, we've been talking. This is so chilling to hear McLelland speaking in his own words just two months ago about these violent killings going on right now. What's in store today in terms of security in this area?

HOWELL: Well, and you even heard it in the report there, that there will be heightened security at the courthouse. The courthouse will reopen today, but the D.A.'s office, it will remain closed as investigators try to get to the bottom of this thing -- John.

BERMAN: All right, George Howell live this morning in Kaufman, Texas. You know, we still have so many questions about this case, including really the big one, is there still a serial assassin on the loose this morning targeting Texas public officials? In 25 minutes, we're going to talk to former FBI assistant director and CNN contributor Tom Fuentes.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, a tragic ending to a rescue mission in the Alaska wilderness. A state trooper's helicopter picked up a person stranded on a snowmobile near the small town of Talkeetna Saturday night when the chopper then went down.

The wreckage was found yesterday. Authorities say they did not find any survivors. The pilot, a trooper, and the rescued snowmobiler were all on board that chopper. Officials say the helicopter caught fire, but they're not sure why.

BERMAN: So also new this morning, it looks like a crime. But New York police are starting to think a dramatic kidnapping caught on surveillance camera may have been staged. The apparent kidnappers are seen racing around a corner. Eventually they force a man and woman into a minivan.

Some witnesses say they saw a gun, but the NYPD says they're seeing a lot of red flags here because no one in the area has been reported missing as of now. They think what happens is maybe a group of friends staged the whole thing as part of a birthday prank.

ROMANS: The U.S. sending stealth bombers to South Korea as tensions with the North escalate. Now, South Korea's issued its own strong response to Pyongyang's nuclear rhetoric. CNN's Kyung Lah is following these developments for us. She is live in Seoul. Good morning.

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. What we're seeing are all these war games playing out both from the north and the south. But what we are also seeing are some whispers from the north. We spent the day with people with their ear to the ground, with people inside the hermit kingdom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAH (voice-over): In a war of words and the imagery of conflict, consider this. Return fire. Kim Seong Min, North Korean defector, broadcasting a message of democracy to North Korea. Hoping they're listening to radios like these that South Korean activists have smuggled into the communist country. He talks to his North Korean sources every day.

(on camera): The average North Korean, you think, wants a war? "Yes, they do," he says, "They think they will win a war and escape their difficult lives through war."

(voice-over): Kim points out that North Koreans don't get any information other than state-controlled media. But the men in the military, says Kim, tell him they know the regime will lose the fight.

(on camera): The international community, especially the United States, thinks Kim Jong-Un as a mad man. Is he a madman?

(voice-over): "He's so young, he's naive" says Kim. "He thinks nuclear weapons will bring the U.S. to the bargaining table."

That's similar to what these defectors are hearing from their North Korean sources. We can't show you the faces of these men because they fear the regime. They work at the Daily NK, a U.S. endowment funded online news site.

GREGORY PENCE, NK DAILY: The sources that we're hearing from are exhausted. They're exhausted by the drills that are happening right now. They're exhausted by the kind of mobilization of the masses.

LAH: Gregory Pence is a Chicago native, a full bright scholar who decided to stay to work here.

PENCE: So right now, I think what you're seeing is Kim Jong-Un to try to inspire the masses, to rally around the flag as they say, and adhere to his leadership.

LAH (on camera): Is Kim Jong-Un talking to Americans or is he talking to North Koreans?

PENCE: He's talking to North Koreans.

LAH: The risk of miscalculation is there. Is that something you worry about?

PENCE: I worry about how fear can inspire poor decision making.


LAH: And that's a concern from the Pentagon that a miscalculation could mean that they trip in to war. But something we should point out, North Korea today called the United States, quote, "a boiled pumpkin." The fact that North Korea is now reverting back to this milder, more juvenile, chat from the North, well, that may actually be a good sign that they are toning it down -- Christine. ROMANS: A boiled pumpkin on this Monday morning. All right, very serious situation, even with the strange language notwithstanding. Kyung Lah, thank you, Kyung.

BERMAN: It is serious, but I have to say a boiled pumpkin. I have not heard that in terms of nuclear sabre rattling really ever.

ROMANS: I haven't either.

All right, three people this morning, I want to show you this, killed at a spectacular 95-veehicle crash alone the Virginia/North Carolina border, 25 other people taken to hospitals. This crash described as a chain of 17 separate wrecks.

In one of the wrecks, the bed of a tractor trailer caught fire after colliding with six cars. It took tow truck drivers hours to clear off Interstate 77. All lanes now have reopened. Investigators say fog was a contributing factor.

BERMAN: Two men are dead in China reportedly from the strain of bird flu not previously seen in humans. The men, 27 and 87 years of age, contracted the H7N9 strain. China's official news agency also reports a third person, a 35-year-old woman, is in critical condition. Chinese officials say they don't know how the victims became infected. Their symptoms included coughing and fever, which later developed into pneumonia.

ROMANS: Life or death for accused Aurora movie theatre shooter James Holmes. At a Colorado hearing in just a few hours, prosecutors may reveal whether they plan to seek the death penalty. That could be delayed by talks of a plea deal.

According to court documents Holmes offered to plead guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. But prosecutors last week rejected that offer. Holmes is charged with killing 12 people, wounding 58 others, inside the Aurora Colorado theatre last year.

BERMAN: It's 9 minutes after the hour right now. We are going to move on to the game and really the moment that everyone is talking about this morning. Louisville did make it to the final four, but they paid a heavy, heavy price to get there, the Cardinals 85-63 victory over Duke overshadowed by a gruesome injury, the sophomore guard, Kevin Ware, who suffered a broken leg.

We are not going to show this to you because it really is too tough to watch. Seeing and hearing the break brought players and coaches to tears. We can see Rick Pitino just crying on the floor right there. They left the crowd in Indianapolis eerily silent. There's Rick Pitino right there. The coach says Ware's courage inspired the team.


RICK PITINO, LOUISVILLE HEAD COACH: I don't think any of us, with what we had to witness, could have overcome it if it wasn't for Kevin Ware 12 times saying to the guys, I'll be fine, win the game.


BERMAN: He spoke to them, you know, on the floor, right after the injury. Surgery to repair the broken leg was successful. Ware will remain in the hospital until at least tomorrow. He actually put out an Instagram photo last night it shows him in the hospital bed with Louisville's trophy for winning the Midwest regional.

Final four is set. Michigan cruised past Florida Sunday 79-59 to earn its trip to Atlanta. This is the Wolverines first final four berth in 20 years since the Fab Five. Also in the final four, match-ups, Louisville versus Wichita State, and Syracuse versus Michigan next Saturday.

The winners will meet a week from tonight for the national championship. You know, it was a huge night for Louisville. Not just the men's team. The women's team also with an epic upset beating top seeded Baylor 82-81 to advance to the elite eight in the NCAA women's tournament. Baylor was the defending women's champ.

They had lost just once in the last 75 games. What's more, Baylor really has one of the best women's players ever. I'm talking in the history of the game. She is phenomenal, Brittany Griener. She didn't get a basket until the second half. Louisville really completely shut her down. This was a huge upset. It really shocked almost everybody.

ROMANS: So Kevin Ware, I mean, he's a sophomore?


ROMANS: So what does this mean for him? A year it's going to take to fix his leg?

BERMAN: I think right now what he's thinking about is getting healthy. Walking again, and then I think he'll worry about playing after that. You see an injury like this. You saw it with Joe Theismann when he played football for the Redskins years and years ago when Lawrence Taylor broke his leg.

You know, the issue was just getting healthy. You don't think about playing right away. The big difference here is, you know, he's a college player. So it affects, you know, not -- I mean, this is his entire future just lost right there.

A lot of people are saying this is a question about how we treat college athletes. Remember, they don't get paid.

ROMANS: But it's still pretty rare to have an injury like that. I mean, it's very rare to have an injury like that playing basketball.

BERMAN: Look, you say rare, I've never seen an injury like that. Joe Theismann injury is the closest thing I can remember. That was, you know, 25 years ago.

ROMANS: I'm sure those guys don't take the court and think that's going to happen. You know, they just play with 100 percent --

BERMAN: Brave, brave kid to talk to his team and really inspire his team before he left to go to the hospital.

ROMANS: All right, terror in the aisles of a California Wal-Mart. A man crashed a car straight into the store. That was just the beginning of his rampage. We're going to have a live report straight ahead.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. A terrifying Easter for Walmart shoppers in California. San Jose police are trying to determine why the man behind this red Oldsmobile drove it straight into that pharmacy. That part of the Walmart store.

People inside the Walmart dazed and frightened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden I see all kinds of people running and screaming towards the back of the Walmart. It's like, what's going on?


ROMANS: So the crash was just the beginning. Nick Valencia, live from Los Angeles.

What can you tell us about what happened, Nick

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just a scary scene there in San Jose, Christine. Witnesses say that he was seen driving erratically in the parking lot and side swiped at least two cars before plowing right into that front entrance of the Walmart.

Witnesses say he could have been going as fast as 40 miles per hour. Now police say he then got out of the car, picked up a blunt object, and began attacking customers. It's obviously a very scary scene for those people inside.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He almost ran me over. And some guy picked my bike up, hit the back of his car, so and he was going inside the car --I mean inside the front door. I mean, he was going -- I mean, he was in there to hurt people, you know?

And I know there was a lot of people -- I know a lot of people got hurt and then I just grabbed my bike and I took off across the street you know. I didn't want to I just know he was he was in there to hurt people.


VALENCIA: The car skidded into the front entrance, being stopped only by the beer display. At least four people was hurt. One of them with serious injuries including a Walmart employee. There was only about 70 people inside. Thankfully, no more people were hurt, Christine. ROMANS: So, the car stopped by the beer display. How did they stop the driver then?

VALENCIA: This is very interesting. The customers inside were so infuriating at the act -- infuriated at the action of this driver, that they subdued him. They tied him up, until police arrived so it was the customers inside the store that descended upon this suspect, stopping him before he can cause any more damage.

ROMANS: Do we know anything more about the suspect at this time? Why this happened?

VALENCIA: We don't. Police are releasing very little information this morning. All we know at this point is that he's someone in his 30s. We have no motive behind the attack -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Nick Valencia for us in California -- thanks, Nick.

BERMAN: Seventeen minutes after the hour right now. Let's bring you up to date.

A manhunt under way in Texas this morning, just two days after Kaufman County district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife found shot to death in their home. These killings come exactly two months after McLelland's colleague was murdered outside the courthouse there. Authorities right now hesitant to declare a connection between the two cases, but as you can imagine, that is a community on edge this morning.

ROMANS: In Atlanta, educators, including a retired superintendent are expected to start turning themselves in to the county jail this morning. Thirty-five former principals, teachers and other public school employees indicted on racketeering charges for allegedly changing students' standardized test scores and then covering it up. Investigators say top school officials got bonuses based on the bogus test results.

BERMAN: Remember last week, Karl Rove said he could imagine a Republican presidential candidate supporting same-sex marriage. Now, a Republican lawmaker is sort of taking that a step further. Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona says he doesn't think there's any avoiding it.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I think that's inevitable. There will be one, and I think he'll receive Republican support, or she will. So I think that yes, the answer is yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And where are you --


BERMAN: Senator Flake added that he personally thinks marriage should be between a man and a woman, or the Supreme Court considering two same-sex marriage cases right now. ROMANS: All right. He's got a new face and now he's got a new wife. Dallas Wiens, the man from Texas who got the nation's first full-face transplant was married over the weekend. The happy couple exchanging vows in the same Fort Worth church where Wiens was badly burned in 2008. He was painting the church when he touched a power line.

Wiens met his wife in a burn victim support group. She was burned in a traffic accident three years ago.

We wish them the best.


ROMANS: Investors celebrating more than Easter over the weekend. S&P is sitting at a record high before today's opening bell. The question now is, where will stocks go from here? The answer --

BERMAN: All right.

ROMANS: -- next.


BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning.

It is the start officially of a new quarter on Wall Street. However, man, those last three months are going to be tough to beat.

ROMANS: Awesome. It was an awesome quarter on Wall Street. The Dow jumped 11 percent. That's the strongest first quarter in 15 years. But now what?

That's what's important. That's history. We want to know what's going to happen next.

Money managers surveyed by CNN Money say this is as good as it's going to get. They expect stocks to finish this year only a little bit higher than where they are right now, because that first quarter was simply so strong. The S&P 500 finished Thursday at an all-time high which closed Friday, of course.

Now, on the plus side, stocks are well-priced. And the U.S. economy is recovering. But analysts still worried about debt problems in Europe, and they're still worried about jobs market that's moving forward, but not as quickly as you like. And Dow futures are down about 17 points right now.

All right. China taking steps to keep its housing market from getting out of control. This is the big story in markets overnight. Authorities in Shanghai are telling banks to stop giving loans to people who want to buy a third home. In Beijing, residents will only be allowed to buy one home. And if you sell your house, you're going to get hit with a big tax bill.

There's a lot of speculation going on right now in real estate there. Both of the cities are going to enforce a 20 percent capital gains tax on any income earned in a property sale.

China's government recently said it's worried about the housing market getting too hot. Real estate prices have been rising there for much of the last decade. It is a very, very hot topic in China right now.

Here in this country, the job market is recovering but only a few cities have fully bounced back from the recession. "The Wall Street Journal" says 14 of the nation's 100 biggest cities have more jobs now than before the recession, 14 out of 100.

Topping the list: Texas, six cities show a full recovery in Texas. The report credits strong employment in oil and gas, of course.

Nationwide, there are still 3 million fewer jobs than when the recession started in 2007.

BERMAN: That's still amazing. So, what's the one thing we need to know about our money today?

ROMANS: One thing, gas prices down for the 12th day in a row. That's the thing you feel every single day. Gallon of regular goes for $3.63. Too soon to say whether prices have peaked for the spring. But AAA is optimistic, saying prices this year will likely be lower than last year when gas peaked at $3.94.

I would say gas prices are the economic indicator people feel first, right? Every week, you're filling up your gas tank or every 10 days or something.

BERMAN: I love it when we celebrate when gas prices are going down because, man, do we complain when they go up.

ROMANS: You know, they seem to go down slower than they go up, don't they?

BERMAN: Never seem to notice.

Twenty-five minutes after the hour right now.

And a district attorney who vowed to hunt down his colleague's killer, he is now himself become the victim of murder. Were both men targeted by the same gunman? Those are the questions everyone asking this morning. We're going to have a live report coming up next.